Support for nurses striking work at the Madras Medical Mission in Mogappair gathered momentum on Friday with all 250 nurses of the hospital staging a sit-in on the premises with banners and placards and demanding salary hike and better benefits. Only a handful of the nurses had gone on strike on Thursday.

On Friday, even nurses from the hospital's intensive care unit joined the protestors, as a result of which students from the hospital's nursing school had to be called in to attend on the patients.

Several rounds of discussion between the District Labour Officer, members of All India Private Nurses' Association (MMM unit) and the hospital management on Friday yielded no satisfactory solution and the nurses decided to continue their strike on Saturday.

“We have signed a two-year bond with the hospital and our certificates are with them. If we want to give up the job before two years, we have to pay Rs. 50,000 to get back the certificates,” said Saraswati, a nurse at the hospital. The nurses are demanding a minimum wage of Rs.7,000 a month and return of their certificates.

There are indications that nurses in Apollo Hospitals would also be joining the strike.

However, Apollo Hospitals and Enterprises Limited on Friday moved the Madras High Court and obtained an interim injunction restraining nurses and their associates from enforcing the strike by preventing other employees, staff nurses willing to work and patients from going in and out of the hospital. Passing interim orders on an application in a civil suit from the hospital, Justice D. Hariparanthaman also restrained them from preventing the entry and exit of ambulances. The matter was posted for hearing after two weeks.

Mohammed Ashiq, a nurse at the hospital, said the nurses had placed their demands with the management in December and planned to go on strike on January 20. The hospital management, he said, called for a compromise but held no discussions with the nurses.

“Only the system of executing bonds was discontinued last month and our certificates were returned,” he said, “but salaries remain the same. I have three years' experience and I am paid Rs. 6,000. We are demanding a starting salary of Rs. 12,000,” he said.

The Trained Nurses' Association of India, Tamil Nadu branch, has offered support to the striking nurses. Association president Jaeny Kemp said: “Nurses are essential to a hospital and are the backbone of the healthcare system. I agree the attrition rate is high but to ensure that nurses stay with the hospital, they must be taken care of.”

Members of the association said that a similar strike by nurses in Kerala helped the private hospitals form an association and address the issue. “Now in Kerala, a nurse gets paid Rs. 14,000 when entering service,” Ms. Kemp explained.

Although the State has Private Nursing Homes Board to address the issues of nurses in small and medium hospitals, corporate hospitals have not formed any association to tackle their grievances, sources in the Indian Medical Association said.

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