Kerala: 29-year-old Shari Ranjeet, a staff nurse for over seven years at a private hospital in Kerala, draws a monthly salary of Rs 12,000. She has already exhausted most of her earnings and there are three more weeks to go in this month.
"I spend around Rs 3,000 every month for my bus fare. I have a child to take care of but we have nothing left from my salary," she said.
Around 5,000 nurses working in private hospitals across Kerala are protesting, demanding wage hike. Kerala has 1,275 private hospitals with around 50,000 trained nurses working in them.
They began an indefinite strike on June 28 after the hospital managements rejected their pay revision demand.
"Nurses with several years of experience and certification still get Rs 8,000-10,000 in many hospitals in Kerala. How can we survive?" Sibi S of United Nurses Association said.
Lijin GN, 26, has been a nurse for around three years. He has to provide for his elderly parents in the Rs 7,500 that he makes in a month. "I am working with one of the popular hospitals in Kerala. I had taken an education loan of Rs 2 lakh, which has now reached to Rs 3 lakh. I haven't even started repaying it," said Lijin.
In Kannur, some nurses have refused to report for duty, leaving patients stranded. "We were forced to take our son to five hospitals in the last few days. Finally, we found one hospital where the dialysis unit wasn't affected by the protest," said Sarojini S, mother of a 35-year-old man.
The Kerala government said talks are underway with nurses and private hospitals for revising the much needed minimum wages for nurses, but the existing laws lack teeth to effectively implement even the existing standards. For example, if the hospitals violate the minimum wage rule, the hospitals are fined from Rs 500 to Rs 5,000, which is hardly anything for hospitals.
K Biju, Labour Commissioner of Kerala, said, "The Kerala government is very serious and has even passed a legislation in the Assembly where hospitals can be fined up to Rs 5 lakh or even Rs 2 lakhs for the count of each person who has been deprived of the minimum wages in the respective hospital, if they do not adhere to the minimum wages. The legislation is awaiting the governor's assent. We expect a solution by next week."
While Kerala boasts of a model healthcare system, many nurses in Kerala remain amongst the worst paid. The opposition parties urged the government to ensure decent wages to the nurses working in private hospitals.
In a letter to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala had said fever and other contagious diseases were spreading across the state and the indefinite strike by private nurses would further worsen the situation in the state health sector.
"Even construction workers get Rs 900-1000 as daily wages in the state. Nurses, who are involved in life-saving activities, are paid only Rs 400-500 as daily wage," he said.
According to a Supreme Court directive in 2016 to all state governments, private hospitals with more than 50 beds are supposed to pay a basic salary of Rs 20,000 to nurses.