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The latest phase of the nurses’ agitation coincided with the 2 September nationwide general strike called by most major national trade union centres in protest against the anti-worker policies of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government. The strike was called as the Government yet again failed to fulfil its promise to address the issues raised by the union, leaving it no other option. Instead of acknowledging the widespread support for the demands of AIGNF, the Delhi Government imposed the controversial and retrograde Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) on the nurses and more than 300 of them were detained in the capital city’s Parliament Street police station until late in the night. In the face of this coercive response AIGNF pulled yet another show of strength as more than 8000 nurses gathered in Jantar Mantar on 3 September, forcing Health Minister Prakash Nadda to meet the AIGNF leaders.
According to a 2008 survey, India has more than 1,6 million nurses. While working conditions in the private sector are known to be abysmal, the situation in the public sector is deteriorating. The latest trend is that of employment through contractors and recruitment agencies. The National Rural Health Mission recruits nurses on contractual basis with salaries between Rs 5,000 and Rs 11,000 – worse than in the private sector. Nurses with the same qualification and job description are made to work in the same hospitals with different salaries depending on whether they are permanent and contract workers. The difference is often a factor of three - a third of the salary mandated by the state is paid to the contract worker.
Despite a successful ‘mass casual leave’ held in mid-February that led to a first appointment with the Health Minister and the repeated promises that their issues would be addressed, the Government has failed to give an appropriate response.
PSI believes that healthcare services are best provided by an adequately financed and staffed public health system. There is no short cut to providing adequate remuneration and working conditions to healthcare workers in order to achieve quality healthcare services.
PSI stands in solidarity with the legitimate demands of AIGNF and other health workers’ unions fighting for their legitimate right to decent work and congratulates the commitment of public services’ workers to provide quality healthcare to the populations they serve.