Nurses who are on contractual positions in government hospitals and primary health centres all across Tamil Nadu, went on a day long fast on Nov 5th . The protest was organized by their union, Tamil Nadu Contract Nurses Association. The agitation was launched at Chepauk and throughout the day there was a constant presence of around 150 to 200 Nurses at the site of the protest. Their main demands were regularisation of the contractual positions and increase in the staff strength in accordance with the norms prescribed by Medical Council of India.
There are over 3500 contract nurses who work in public health sector across Tamil Nadu. Most of the nurses have been working in government hospitals for five to seven years on contractual positions. They were promised that their positions will be made permanent after two years of service, however this has not happened. The nurses get paid between Rs 7,000 to 8,000 per month and get a day off for every 6 days of work. They are not paid any overtime, although they end up doing multiple shifts due to extreme short staffing especially in primary health centres .
Primary health centres work on 3 shifts of 8 hours each. These centres have precisely three nurses, one for each shift. In addition to strenuous workload that they face during their shifts, if the nurses from the other shift are absent then other nurses have to work overtime and do not get paid. Thus one of the demands of the protesters was increase in the staff strength , especially in primary health centres. They are demanding that the number of nurses in these centres be increased from three to six.
Chennai Nurses as health staff all across the country are not alien to strikes and peaceful protests. Just last September four hundred and fifty nurses had gone on a day long hunger strike with same demands. This demand was clearly not met which resulted in the hunger strike on November 5th. In June 2012, the nurses who were appointed more than five years ago on a consolidated monthly salary of Rs. 4,500, had gone on protest demanding a raise in their salary. The protest was successful and government revised the pay at Rs. 7,700 with an annual increase of Rs. 500.
Nurses are an indispensable working class without whom health services would collapse and hence their strikes (especially the longer they go on) are often successful. The strike launched by Chennai nurses in 2012, who worked in private medical facilities like Apollo, Fortis or Madras Medical Mission, was a week of uncompromising struggle. Their demands for hike in salary from Rs 6600 to Rs 12,000 per month and for resisting confiscation of their educational and experience certificates by the hospital management were successful.
There was also a significant police presence around the protest site which is rather surprising considering that this was a hunger strike and was launched by health-care professionals who are not exactly known for rioting.
Earlier, at a press conference, the union had iterated that the strike was to be an indefinite hunger strike and would be conducted at Chepauk till 5PM and moved to DMS after that as police has not provided permission after 5PM for holding the protest. However, the indefinite hunger strike ended on the same day as the health secretary has called for discussions and negotiations with union representatives .