More than 400 workers of Meenakshi Medical College and Research Institute in Kanchipuram have been on strike since July 16th after the management failed to honour an agreement for pay rise. The workers continue to sit on the strike in front of the gates of Meenakshi Medical College as 12 of their colleagues are in Kanchipuram jail on charges of threat of violence and damage to property . According to the workers, the police have charged against 20 workers including one woman worker based on the management’s false charges which have not been investigated thoroughly.
According to the workers, the hospital was paying a salary of Rs 4500 to a technician with 2 years experience. A nurse with 11 years of experience drew a salary of Rs 8000. The unskilled workers were drawing a salary of Rs 3000-4800. “How can we manage with Rs4500 while my commute to the hospital takes Rs 80 per day?” Says a technician who comes from Vellore. She said that “Earlier the institute used to provide transport for us and cut Rs 100 per month from our salary. But now they have stopped the service and I have to take public transport”.
The workers also have other complaints against the management. For the last few years, the workers state that the management has not provided a pay certificate. While PF is deducted from their salary, PF number has not been given leading the workers to suspect their contribution is not being deposited by the management with the PF department. The last pay slip a worker showed was in 2005 which showed that the PF contribution by the employer was about one third of the employee.
The workers are not covered under ESI under Employee State Insurance Act and the institute does not provide free treatment for workers. According to a woman worker who has been working since the institute has been operational, she had to pay 50% for her maternity charges to have her baby delivered. She was also not given any maternity leave and had to go on leave without pay for three months. There are no proper leaves sanctioned and salaries are deducted for any leave taken.
The workers allege that the institute has not increased the salary for last 4 years and had posted a notice saying that there will be no pay rise for next 5 years. Following the increase in bus fare and essential commodities, the workers demanded a raise in January and protested. With the management not heeding to their demands, the workers have united under Kanchipuram CITU district leadership and served a strike notice in April and struck work between April 27 and May 20th.
At the end of the strike, an agreement was signed in front of Department of conciliation for Labour by the union and the management, and the management agreed to a wage increase and posted revised pay scale in their notice board in July. According to the notice, the management had revised the basic pay and other benefits so that the minimum pay scale had raised to Rs 5174 but there was no effective wage increase for workers with wages higher than the above wage. While manual workers had a pay rise with this increase, the nurses and technicians’ pay rise was nil to negligent.
A complaint to the management resulted in escalation in war of words. On the night of 24th July, 2012 based on the complaints filed by the management the police arrested and remanded 12 of the workers . The workers state that the police is continuing to harass the workers while refusing to accept their complaints and that the police have not investigated any of the charges against the workers and are working hand in glove with the management.
Since then, workers including technicians, nurses, OT staff, electricians, mechanics, sweepers, gardeners have been on indefinite strike while the police have refused to give permission to even put a shamiana for the strike. Their demands include release of all workers from prison and withdrawal of all charges against the workers, wage increase with the basic pay of Rs 10000, free treatment for all workers at the hospital, proper implementation of provident fund, permanent work for all after probation period and transportation facility.