Report by a correspondent of Thozhilalar Ottrumai Iyakkam (Workers Unity Movement)
Health workers of Tamilnadu organised a rally in defence of their rights on 18th August, 2023. Hundreds of health workers participated in the rally held in the Rajarathinam stadium in Chennai. They included nurses, ambulance workers, paramedical technicians and Ayush workers.
The rally was organised by the COITU (Central Organisation of Indian Trade Unions). Leaders of 108 Ambulance Workers Union of Tamilnadu, Tamilnadu Government All Nurses Union, Tamilnadu Public Health Nurses Union, Tamilnadu Public Health Ayush Workers Union, Tamilnadu Government Hospital Auxiliary Workers Union, Tamilnadu Public Health Paramedical Technician Workers Union and Tamilnadu AIDS Control All Staff Welfare Union addressed the rally.
The rally was organised in the backdrop of the Tamilnadu government systematically privatizing healthcare services and handing over all the vital functions of government hospitals to private contractors. The government is handing over many of the government hospitals including all the facilities, buildings and infrastructure to private hospitals, enabling them to make maximum profits.
Government hospitals are being deliberately ruined. They are poorly staffed. There is a shortage of 50% for nurses in government hospitals throughout Tamilnadu. Similarly there is severe shortage of Doctors, paramedical technicians, Ward assistants, Ayush staff, 108 Ambulance workers and other workers in the government hospitals. This is resulting in deteriorating medical services for the people. Each doctor has to treat about 400 out patients a day on the average. Each nurse has to look after over 50 bed patients and one hygiene worker has to attend to 4 large wards or more. Most of the health workers, including Doctors, Nurses, support staff and Ambulance workers are being employed on fixed term contract basis for a 11 month term.
The Tamilnadu government is aggressively cutting down hospital staff strength, and privatizing vital medical services. For those services outsourced to private operators, patients have to pay high fees.
The medical and support staff employed by the contractors are being paid paltry sums as their salaries, forced to work for 12-14 hours a day and without any of the basic rights and social welfare benefits due to them as workers.
Nurses are divided as contract Nurses, MRB Nurses, Daily wage nurses, district health society nurses, etc. They are denied their rights, including job security, fair wages, medical leave, weekly off, salary raise in line with the cost of living. They have no social security. The same is true for Ayush workers, Paramedical staff, 108 Ambulance workers, etc.
Leaders of the agitating health workers’ unions spoke about these exploitative work conditions as well as the plight of masses of people who are dependent on the Government hospitals for healthcare services.
The workers demanded that the government recruit adequate number of medical staff in all categories, stop privatizing / outsourcing of the services immediately, regularize all jobs as government employees, provide weekly off, revise salary levels of all staff taking their experience, skills and cost of living into account. Workers also demanded the implementation of the 8 hour working day.
They demanded that all those health care services which have been outsourced to private companies and contractors such as 108 Ambulance, Ward assistants, support staff, etc. are immediately brought back under the government’s healthcare department.
The rally ended in militant spirit with a resolution to further build unity of the workers and fight till all their demands are met.
The ruthless exploitation and inhuman working conditions of the medical staff in Government hospitals and medical colleges reveal the lack of interest and apathy of the government towards providing good quality and affordable medical and healthcare services for the people.