The State government’s decision to revise the pay scale of private hospital staff has brought cheers to nurses, who have been staging protests for the last few months demanding an increase in the wages. “It is a small victory, but victory nevertheless,” said Jasmin Sha, president of the United Nurses Association, which was part of the Industrial Relations Committee (IRC) constituted to resolve the wages issue.

Though the pay package does not follow the recommendations of S. Balaraman committee, set up by the government to study the problems of nurses working in the private sector, the basic pay has gone up from Rs.5400 to Rs.9500 for the basic category of clinics that have up to 20 beds. The second category of hospitals having 21 to 100 beds will have to give a basic pay of Rs.10,500 and the third category of hospitals having over 100 beds will have to pay a basic salary of Rs.12,900.

“When the government asked the private hospitals to implement the minimum wages, the nurses got total emoluments up to Rs.8100-Rs.8600. Taking this into account, the agreement can be considered a victory,” said Mr. Sha.

The IRC has also decided to upgrade the status of the nurses by providing a special grade allowance from Rs. 500 to Rs. 1,250 according to the various categories of work.

“It has been agreed to make the retrospective payment from January onwards despite management’s plans to pay new wages from the current month,” said Mr. Sha. These packages are for the entry level and there will also be a 2 per cent increase in the salary every year, he added.

The nurses are also glad about the provision of trainees in the agreement. A government order, allegedly at the behest of private hospital managements, last year had brought in the post of trainees where only staff nurses existed. The new guidelines say that trainees will be fresh graduates and they will not exceed 25 per cent of the total staff nurses. The trainees will get a salary of Rs.6000 in the general nursing category and Rs.6,500 in the B.Sc. nursing category. “The private hospital managements were not ready for anything over 15 per cent rise and the talks made them to give a maximum of 20 per cent,” said Mr. Sha. “We had threatened to launch a stir if this sitting again resulted in a stalemate,” he said. They had about 25 sittings.

Calling the agreement an eye wash, the secretary of the Indian Nurses Association, Mohammed Shihab, said that by segregating nurses into three categories based on the number of beds in hospitals, only the multi-specialty hospitals having over 100 beds will have to pay the basic pay recommended by the Balaraman committee.

Coming down heavily on the hospital managements’ claim that the increase in the staff wages is going to affect the patients, Mr. Shihab said the nurses’ salaries do not make even 10 per cent of the total commission that is paid for medicines and tests.

“Salaries are not the only issue that the nurses had been fighting for,” he said. The work schedules are important too. The nurses’ strike at Kothamangalam hospital failed to reach a compromise after many rounds of talks because of the unacceptable working hours, he pointed out. The only relief is the allowances given to nurses, he said. Advocate Hussain Koya Thangal, secretary of the Private Hospitals Association, said the hospitals inked the agreement to avoid any further unrest by the staff.

“The hospitals will have to revise the service charges to meet the cost,” he said.

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