Mazdoor Ekta Lehar (MEL) took an interview on the condition of Nursing Aid and Security workers in Tamil Nadu Government hospitals with Comrade Tha Sivakumar. He is the Legal Advisor of the Tamilnadu Government Hospitals Auxiliary works Workers Union affiliated to Central Organization of Indian Trade Unions (COITU). Following is the summary of the interview.
MEL: What are the working conditions of nursing aid and security workers in Government Hospitals?
TS : There are about 50,000 nursing aid and security workers working in Government Hospitals in Tamil Nadu. Decades back they were regular employees of the hospitals. Over the years, this work has been outsourced and contracted out to private contractors. In the course of time, Government has eliminated all these posts and made them as Crystal, Padmavathi etc. are some of the organizations which provide nursing aid and support services at the government and medical college hospitals in Tamilnadu.
Their salaries are determined by what manual workers in each district are entitled to. It is in the range of Rs. 4500 to 5000 per month. In cities it is about 6000 Rupees. This salary is much below the amount of Rs.18,000 per month which is the minimum wages of regular government employees. These workers work in three shifts of 8 hours duration each. They have to report to work one hour early. However, when they do report, they have no guarantee they will get work for the day.
MEL: What is the nature of work of these workers?
TS: Nursing aid workers keep the hospital premises, wards and toilets clean. They also move patients between wards and departments as and when necessary. Security workers keep watch in wards and entrances. Besides these tasks, these workers are forced to give medicines and even injections to the patients in the wards, etc. which are not part of their duties.
The working conditions of these workers are terrible. Although majority of these workers are women, they do not have any room to rest or for change of dress. Administration treats them in most inhuman way. They are exploited in most brutal manner.
They are treated as daily wage workers. They do not get weekly off, and are not eligible for Provident Fund or ESI. All benefits as workers are denied to them. Our Union has filed a case for improving their wages and working conditions.
Frequently workers are given breaks or contractors are exchanged. Through these methods, they are deprived of their rights.
No one treats these workers with respect and dignity. Government authorities also threaten these workers and try to prevent them from becoming organized or unionized.
MEL: What is the condition of these workers under the current Corono Virus situation?
TS: Nursing aid workers also get deployed for duty in the Covid-19 wards. However in most cases they are not provided with the necessary PPE for their safety and safety of the patients. Hospital authorities say contractors are responsible for providing workers with safety kits. Contractors are refusing to provide PPE kits and they threaten the workers with termination if they ask for protective equipment. Due to this situation, these workers are working without adequate protection. They have to dispose off the used protective gear of doctors, infected disposable items, etc.
Due to such exposures, at least 7 to 10 workers are known to have become infected with this virus so far. In some hospitals, hygiene workers are sent to Covid-19 positive patients to deliver medicines and even to give them injections. We, in the Union, have pointed out all such problems to the authorities for necessary corrective actions. As a result of our struggle, in some places, PPE kits are being provided to nursing aid workers.
Government has announced an insurance policy for the healthcare workers working with Covid-19 patients. As per the announcement if any healthcare worker dies due to infection of Covid-19, her or his family will be compensated by Rs. 50 Lakhs. But here again, the scheme has been restricted to the regular employees of the government hospitals and a limited number of contract staff. This limit is being decided by the state government. Except for the Doctors, major part of Nurses and all nursing aid and support staff are kept under contract. Hence there is definite uncertainty created and no one knows, if she/he is covered under insurance or not, even though they are working in dangerous conditions exposed to the virus.
MEL: Considering that these workers are working with Virus infected patients risking their own life, has government come up with any special allowance / payments for these workers?
TS : No. Not only they do not receive any special payments/allowances, they do not even receive their regular month's salary on time. For example, hygiene workers of all Medical college Hospitals in Tamil Nadu received their last month's salary only after 25 days, after they protested and raised their voice. Three days back, hygiene workers of Karur Medical Hospital unwillingly went on an agitation during the lock down, demanding their salaries which has not been paid for the last few months! In Salem Medical College hospital, this Union's State Secretary fought for payment of pending wages. Due to which, she has been removed from work in this month by the management of Crystal. Even under normal circumstances, running a family with 4000 or 5000 Rupees is terrible. But under lockdown situation when everything from food, vegetables to basic items become costlier and unavailable and public transport has disappeared, imagine their condition of life. This is the reality of nursing aid workers' conditions.
MEL: On the one hand Government is trying to show as if they are very concerned about the health of our people and wants to protect them. Our Prime Minster is asking people to stand in their balconies and clap hands for healthcare workers and he himself does great drama of Padha Puja for hygiene workers in front of Television channels! On the other hand, the same government is refusing to pay even the several months' wages of the healthcare workers without any agitations! In reality they do not even look after the workers of the healthcare sector, not to mention rest of the population. This is the real exploitative nature of the political power in India.
Thank you Comrade Tha Sivakumar for sharing the conditions of this section of workers. MEL supports the just struggle and demands of nursing aid and security workers.