Incredibly enough, even during the pandemic, nursing staff is expected to work without pay. No wonder they are on strike
Almost 600 nurses from four of North Delhi Municipal Corporation’s hospitals are on an indefinite strike to demand payment of three months pending salar.
The strike is by the nursing staff of Municipal Corporation-run Kasturba, Hindu Rao, Girdharilal Maternity and Rajan Babu TB hospitals. Despite a meeting with the mayor of North DMC Jay Prakash, on Monday November 2, the first day of their strike, assurances made by him made no difference to the employees.
They take his promises as mere words being echoed since the past several weeks of receiving their salaries, now pending for the past three months.
BL Sharma, president of the Kasturba hospital nurses union, told us that the reason constantly cited by the authorities is that there is a fund shortage and they are arranging those funds. As it happened at the meeting, the mayor reasoned with the nurses, telling them he was doing everything possible to collect funds together to pay the salaries of all his staff, be it the paramedics, who haven’t been paid since June, or the nurses or the doctors.
He also requested them a few times by the end of the meeting to call off their strike and that he would see to it that either a month or two’s salaries would be paid before Diwali, the staff curtly responded with a blunt ‘no’, saying “You get the funds together and till then we will continue our agitation”.
The nurses later told us they had heard enough promises and would continue their agitation. Indu Jamwal, Hindu Rao Hospitals president of the hospital’s Nurses’ Welfare Association said they want their dues to be paid to them just as the doctors had till the month of September. Sharma pointed out they too had worked all these months during a pandemic, yet not paid, “We gave our best (during Corona) despite not receiving our salary”.
Sharma believes that in the event of the doctors’ agitation, the MCD was able to get together the funds, questioning why the same could not be done for the nurses. “The promise was that everyone will be paid together. They keep saying that they are arranging the funds, if they have a shortage of funds then where did they get the money to pay the doctors?” he asks.
In total, the representatives of the hospitals tell us that from Kasturba there are 130 nursing staff taking part in the agitation, 250 from Hindu Rao hospital, 160 nurses in RBTB hospital and around 50 in GLM hospital.
Sharma alleges that despite prior notices, and agitating for their right to receive what is due to them, their voices remain unheard. “We have given them prior notice when we started our agitation and we told them if our problems are not sorted out, we will go on permanent strike but they still didn’t do anything. Even before this strike again about five days ago we informed them about it.”
The problems with pay getting delayed however, is not a new one for the MCD employees who say this has been the case for about six years now, where their salaries come delayed for a couple of months. The BJP run North DMC (as do the other municipal corporations) blame the AAP-run Delhi government for not giving them the funds that are due to them, which along with shortage of earnings due to the pandemic, has caused an acute shortage crippling them, making them unable to pay the salaries.
But nurses like Anita Lal, at RBTB hospital, who has been in the profession for the past 30 years does not care about excuses. “I am the sole breadwinner of my home; I have to see to everything. They bang plates, put garlands on us but now they have put us in a state that we will be standing with a bowl asking for alms.”
Secretary General of the trained nurses’ association of India, the Secretary General Evelyn P Kannan, says they don’t want the strike to continue for long but support the nurses. “We have our concern for our patients. We don’t want (to protest but), when government does not listen this is the final step which we are taking. We know as nurses, we are empathetic and have integrity, once things are given they will start their work”.
The assistant secretary general of the association, Ajinas AM at the same time says that the nurses had already alerted the authorities of their grievances, and that this did not “start in a day…but it hasn’t been heeded by anyone.”
Ajinas says they met the mayor informally before the meeting along with the nurses of the four hospitals, who had assured them that he would work on the matter. “When we met the nurses last week, we understood they are very much deprived of their salary so we thought we would first informally meet the mayor. (We were told) One more (months) salary can be given before Diwali and rest of the pending salary will be given later. But no assurances have been given, it is word of mouth.”
He also brings up the concern that the doctors demands were fully met with arrears to be paid, even declaring the days of agitation as “on duty”, but why not for the nurses, he asked.
“In India, there is always the consideration of doctors first and then nurses. But this year, majority of the people understood the value of nurses during the Covid-19 time, where doctors do the check-up and nurses do the majority of other care.”
As the four hospitals remain without critical hands, the administration still looks for cash to pay their salaries from the months of August to October.
(Cover Image: Nurses and Paramedical staff of Hindu Rao Hospital hold placards during a protest over the non-payment of salaries, at Hindu Rao Hospital on November 2 //Credit: Getty)