CHENNAI: Just a day ago, the whole world celebrated International Nurses Day and hospitals in the city organised events to mark the day. But sadly, little is being done to improve their status. With salaries less than those of an auto driver or a daily wage labourer, they’re barely respected in their profession.
Before 2012, nurses earned as little as Rs 3000 per month. Distressed and humiliated, they took to the streets across the country, demanding a hike. While the government ordered that fresh nurses be paid a basic salary of Rs 7,500, private hospitals raised the pay of experienced nurses to Rs 15,000-20,000. However, four years down the line, nurses at government hospitals continue on salaries less than Rs 10,000, and while well-to-do hospitals pay their nurses reasonably, those in smaller clinics and hospitals still get paid just Rs 5,000.
However, what they want is not a hike, but a promotion from being contract labourers to permanent employees. R Marimuthu, vice president, TN Association of Contract Nurses, said that as per the rule, a contract nurse should become a ‘permanent employee’ within two years. “I have been a nurse for six years and am still on contract. Of the 21,000 nurses in the state, 10,000 are on contract; out of them, 3,000 have more than six years of experience,” he explained.
Without promotions, nurses get only a Rs 500 raise a year, and only those with over 25 years of experience end up getting a promotion. While nurses say that other problems also plague their profession, they add that if they were fairly promoted, most other problems would be sorted.
“Nurses on contract get five days off each month and 12 days of casual leave each year. This means that even if a contract nurse is pregnant, while they are allowed leave, they remain unpaid,” explained Revathi R, who has worked for nine years.
“We tell patients that breastfeeding for at least six months is the best way to keep children healthy, but we don’t get to doit for our children,” averred Jancy M, who works at a hospital in Egmore. “Since we earn less than even the hospital cleaners, we are not respected by anyone. At times, doctors too dismiss us as we’re still on a contract. It is difficult to work in such an atmosphere.”
Though they are supposed to work for only eight hours a day, nurses work double shifts and also take up the job of a doctor or pharmacist when no one is available. “Doctors prescribe or diagnose, but we are with patients 24/7. Due to the lack of nurses, we are expected to take care of more than two wards sometimes,” Jancy said.
Even though the Medical Council of India rules that there should be a 1:8 nurse-patient ratio in each ward, and a 1:1 ratio in ICUs and several other departments, hospitals across the state grossly violate this norm. “Thousands of nurses graduate all over the state, so it’s not that there aren’t enough nurses — it’s just that they don’t find jobs,” said Marimuthu.
While nurses at private hospitals don’t have to go through the ‘contract system’ and are given decent salaries, those working in smaller clinics and hospitals suffer. “Sometimes, these clinics illegally take in untrained nurses and pay them poorly. But in some places, even those with BSc degrees are paid less than Rs 5,000. Since nurses are desperate for jobs, they take them despite bad pay,” said Bomminathan, president, Tamil Nadu Association of Trained Nurses.
Even after several petitions to the government with the latter promising solutions after the elections, they continue to be wary. “We hope they keep their word. The fact that there is no formal association representing us from small hospitals prevents us from getting our due,” added Boominathan, who himself is a private special duty nurse.
What They Want
Though most nurses in the country are paid poorly, their main concern isn’t receiving a pay hike, but getting promotions. Only those with over 25 years of experience get a promotion, without which, they get a raise of just Rs 500 a year