An online group has drawn 1.5-lakh nurses to drum up support for their cause

Spring was the buzzword last year. And its effect continues into the New Year. Just as the Arab Spring, we have our own Nurses Spring. All because of Facebook, so they say.

Nurses working in private hospitals, one of the most disorganised groups in the services sector, have found new strength with this spring that is spreading. It's just about two months old, and the membership of the United Nurses' Association has reached 1.5 lakh working in about 400 hospitals.

One of the largest workforces in the State, across the country and beyond, nurses in the private sector have been the most exploited group. The growing strength of the Association has surprised even its leaders.

It all started with the coming together of a few nurses to help one of their friends at Kottayam who had fallen into debt and who confided to her friend that she wanted to commit suicide. With the death of Beena Baby, a nurse who worked in a Mumbai hospital, fresh in everyone's mind, more than 30 nurses met in Thrissur and began a campaign demanding welfare measures, and this message posted on Facebook evoked a lot of response.

Meeting the bank manager to find out the debt of the nurse was their first step. The manager pointed out that there were many such cases, and it would be of help if something could be done about it.

More nurses came together when the group posted the schedule of a meeting to discuss the need to help each other in an organised group. Nearly 130 nurses turned up for the meeting held in mid-November, which led group leader Jasmin Sha to realise how vulnerable the group was.

Within four days, about 3,000 nurses joined the group on Facebook, he said. It now has more than 13,000 members.

That was also the beginning of the first agitation of the nurses, when the group spoke on behalf of their counterparts at a private hospital in Thrissur. As they did not have any enough organisational strength, the first thing they did was to register the Association.

There are innumerable hospitals where nurses are working for a pittance of Rs.1,000-Rs. 3,000, much below the minimum wages set by the government for the private sector, said Mr. Sha, who has resigned from his lucrative post as a nurse abroad and got himself involved in the group.