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Kerala nurses on pay warpath, church-run hospitals accused

Catholic dioceses and religious congregations that run 328 hospitals in the state are accused of exploitation

Kerala nurses on pay warpath, church-run hospitals accused

Indian nurses are at a sit-in demonstration seeking pay hike from Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad in this file photo. Nurses in Kerala state are on strike now seeking a pay hike, saying profit-seeking hospitals exploit them without paying them a descent salary.

 

Photo: IANS

T. K. Devasia, Kochi
India

July 17, 2017

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Medical nurses in the southern Indian state of Kerala are demanding a pay hike in line with a Supreme Court order, while accusing the private-run hospitals, including Catholic-managed institutions, of exploiting them in the hunt for profit.

The nurses' threat to intensify their fortnight-long struggle with a strike, from July 17, is likely to cause chaos to the state's health care sector.

Prominent labor unions claim some 2,000 privately managed hospitals have been exploiting over 150,000 nurses without paying a decent salary. Hospitals typically pay nurses a monthly salary between 6,000 to 8,000 rupees (US$90 to 120) a month.

The Catholic dioceses and other religious congregations that run 328 hospitals in the state are also accused of pay exploitation.

Nimmy Varghese, a nurse for the past three years with a prominent church-run hospital in Trichur, said young women like her paid high tuition fees to the nursing colleges attached to these hospitals during their three-year training period.

"Most of us who took bank loans to pay fees are under pressure to repay" but the meager pay would not be enough for her personal needs, her ailing parents and siblings who are still in school, she added.

Father Thomas Vaikathuparampil, president of the Catholic Hospital Association of India described the nurses' decision as "very unfortunate" and said church officials were "very sympathetic to the demands of the nurses.

Many church-managed hospitals already pay more than the minimum wages fixed by the state government. However, the priest said most of the 328 hospitals that dioceses or religious congregations manage are small ones in remote village areas. 

"They cannot afford the wages demanded by the nurses" without raising the cost of the healthcare of the village poor, he added.

But Aneesh Mathew termed the priest's claims baseless saying most hospitals managed by the church "were being run on commercial lines. They are charging the same fee most private hospitals charge," he said.

Besides this, church-run colleges also "demand a capitation fee at the time of admission. If a small portion of this amount is channeled into the hospitals, they can easily pay a decent salary to the nurses," Mathew said.

Bibin Paul, a leader of the United Nurses Association that is spearheading the strike told ucanews.com the action began after hospital managers and state refused to implement an order from the Supreme Court of India.

The court last year directed all provincial governments in India to ensure private hospitals with more than 50 beds pay a basic salary on par with what nurses earn in the government sector.

Accordingly, "a nurse in Kerala must receive some 30,000 rupees a month (US$454), but the private hospitals are not even ready to pay 20,000 of what we demand," Paul said.

A state government committee, which studied the issue, met with stakeholders July 10 and suggested a basic pay rise to 17,200 rupees.

The government's proposed hike "will not make any difference to us since it includes all allowances. In effect, the new gross salary will not be more than 20,000 rupees, the same an unskilled hospital employee receives," said Mohammed Shihab, secretary of the Indian Nurses Association.

The Labor Commission of the regional Catholic bishops' council maintains that church-run hospitals are ready to pay the increase agreed by the government committee. But the nurses at church-run hospitals have rejected the offer.

An estimated 60 percent of nurses in the state are Christians, most of them Catholics.

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