Kerala nurses struggle against bond trap

Nurses in Kerala are struggling hard for decent wages and working conditions.

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala has for long been
reputed for sending the largest number of trained and
dedicated nurses to all parts of the world.

But, at home, the nurses are struggling hard for decent
wages and working conditions.

Whether in Europe, America or the Gulf, one may not miss
a Malayali nurse in any big hospital as they have earned a
name for selfless service and professionalism.

Drawing inspiration from protest campaigns mounted by
their counterparts in Mumbai and Delhi, nurses in many private
and institutional hospitals in Kerala have either started
striking or put the managements on notice, making it a major
problem in Kerala’s health sector.

Nurses on the warpath include those attached to
multi-speciality hospitals run by charity wings of churches as
well as Hindu and Muslim charities.

With the issue snowballing, major political parties and
trade unions are compelled to pledge support to the nurses’
strike and the government to engage in some plain speaking to

After lasting for about a month, it was only last week
that the nurses’ protest in a church-run medical college
hospital was settled with the management agreeing to most of
the demands of the nurses’ association.

According to health sector sources, nurses in the state
get a basic pay of Rs 13,900 a month, private nurses receive
total amount of around Rs 9,000 with the basic wage being
Rs 5,000.

In many hospitals, trainee nurses get a meagre wage of
Rs 2,000-4,000 during their initial years.

Super speciality hospitals in Kochi, one of them run by an
internationally known ashram, were also forced to implement
the demands of the striking nurses after they took to the

According to senior CPI(M) leader and former Health
minister P K Sreemathi, nurses continued to be a neglected
group in the country despite being a large working group who
render great service to the people.

"The nurses are a sidelined section in the health sector in
most of the Indian states. In most hospitals, they fail to get
pay and service conditions matching their qualifications and
professional skills," Sreemathi told.

Most private hospitals pay them poorly and deny even the
basic labour right to organize themselves for collective
bargaining for fair pay, she said.

Many of the nurses and paramedics say ill-treatment by
managements is not a new story. Though harassment and
exploitation have been there in the sector for long nobody has
so far dared to complain.
"Even in a progressive state like Kerala,the nursing
council was formed only a few years back.This itself shows
the negligence shown by the authorities towards nurses,"
Sreemathi said.

When majority of nurses in government hospitals work
eight hours, private hospital nurses are compelled to work for
upto 16 hours continuously finding it hard to get even weekly

Newcomers are forced to execute a bond and have to work on
a fixed salary without any allowances for certain period
prescribed by the managements, and, on expiry of deadline the
bond period is either extended or academic certificates held
back to compel them to remain in the same hospital.

25-year-old Mary Stella (name changed), working in a
big hospital in Thiruvananthapuram, said bond trap and
debt trap are the major threats faced by the young nurses.

Majority of those opting for nursing profession come from
lower middle class or poor background.Only a few will get the
chance to study in government nursing colleges and the rest
have no choices other than joining private nursing
institutions in and outside the state, she said.

Many of them have studied on educational loans and it
is difficult to repay them out of the meagre wages they
get from the hospitals.

"We have to find money to repay the bank dues, to
support parents, and meet boarding and lodging expenses. Even
if we get a better job offer abroad, we cannot escape due to
the bond agreement which we signed," she said.

In many cases, nurses should pay Rs 50,000 under the
bond conditions to the hospital if they discontinue their
service before the period.

"If we fail to pay the amount, we
won’t get our original certificates back.

Experience certificate will also be denied," she added.

P.K.Thampi, former president, Kerala Nursing Association,
said government should make an effective legislation to bring
in the greedy managements under control.

"Many big private hospitals pay around Rs 10,000 for
doctors as incentive for each surgery they perform. But, not a
single paise is given to the nurses who support the doctors
through the hours-long operations," he said.

He also said private hospitals deny night shift allowances,
insurance and other social welfare schemes as well to their
nursing staff.

The suicide of 22-year-old Malayali nurse Beena Baby
allegedly due to the harassment of hospital management in
Mumbai some months ago had triggered the present country-wide
agitation in the nursing sector.


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