CHENNAI: The Chennai city corporation had tweeted a “big thanks” to its medical team when the civic body pulled off the herculean task of vaccinating close to two lakh people this Sunday, in its mega vaccination drive. Behind this social media veneer, however, the healthcare staff who made the drive a success, have been suffering due to much delay in payment of their salaries. Despite being frontline workers, they are left to deal with meagre pay, lack of wage for extra working hours and pay cuts for taking leaves.
Pooja*, a nurse in her late 20s, deployed at an ‘Amma’ mini clinic in the city, said her salary of `12,500 has been delayed by at least 15 days. “My work timings are only from 6:30 am to 1:30 pm. But, during the mega vaccine day, it started from 7 am and went on till 8 pm. We weren’t paid any money for the extra six hours we had put in,” she rued. When contacted by TNIE, the corporation officials acknowledged the delay in payments.
The nurses said they face a pay cut of `391-410 even if they take a single day off. “We face pay cuts even if we take leave for medical emergencies, apart from our weekly one-day off,” said Saroja*, a nurse on Covid-19 duty. Besides, she said they were short-staffed for alternative shifts. “My work is only till 1 pm, but with people coming for vaccination, it goes up to 4 pm. There’s nobody for a second shift,” Saroja added.
The situation of people who are deployed to enter Cowin data and as fever-survey staff who spread awareness on vaccination, is much worse. “Even though there are 31 working days in some months, our salaries are given for 30. Unlike nurses, we do not even get one day week-off,” said Anitha* a Cowin data entry staff. She said their salary of `12,500 has been delayed for 25 days. “How do they expect us to work in Covid-19 mitigation without a salary? By the time the salary comes, it gets exhausted in a single day by paying loans and daily expenses,” she said.
Dr Shanthi AR, Secretary, Doctor’s Association for Social Equality, told TNIE, “The government must intervene strongly and put an end to this inhuman treatment. Nurses are even taking maternity leaves with a pay cut. Now, as people are also getting breakthrough infections, appropriate care must be given for Covid-19 staff,” she said. Dr. Perumal Pillai, President of Legal Coordination Committee for Government doctors said, “We can’t just have good schemes but exploit the workforce.”
A senior city corporation official privy to the matter told TNIE, “All the contract nurses and doctors have been paid except the ones who were transferred from outsourcing to contract with the District Health Society. It will be done in a day or two once they submit their agreements. From next month onwards, the pay will be regular as the documentation will be completed this month,” the official added.
Pay cut for taking leaves
Apart from the delay in receiving their salaries and lack of additional pay for additional working hours, the nurses also complain about the pay cuts they face even when they are on leave for medical emergencies. Lack of staff is another issue they point to
(*Names of all employees have been changed to protect their identity)