250 nurses go on strike over bond, harassment

After a colleague committed suicide, caregivers at Asian Heart Institute stopped work, to protest the misbehaviour of officials, and a 2-year contract
A day after a 22-year old nurse Beena Baby, working with the Asian Heart Institute, committed suicide, over 250 nurses in the five-star hospital went on strike yesterday, in protest against alleged harassment at the hands of their superiors, and an unfair bond system that prevented them from leaving their jobs before completing two years of mandatory service.

The last straw: The protest took place a day after Beena Baby (below),
a nurse in the hospital, committed suicide by hanging herself in her
Santacruz apartment.

PIC/Vishal Yadav

Beena committed suicide on Tuesday morning, by hanging herself from the ceiling of her Santacruz apartment.
The enraged nurses claimed that it was misbehaviour from the higher-ups that drove Beena to take her own life. Incensed by the death of their colleague, the nurses presented a united front, gathering outside the hospital, demanding respite from the alleged harassment and freedom from the bond system which, forces them to a mandatory service period of two years in the hospital. In case of premature termination or voluntary resignation, this bond makes them liable to make a payment of Rs 50,000 to the hospital.

Moreover, the nurses expressed anger over the fact that the hospital authorities collect their original mark sheets at the time of joining, and return them only after the completion of the two-year-long compulsory service period. 

"There are many Beenas among us; she was tired of the continuous harassment, and wanted to leave. But the bond she was forced to sign prevented her from leaving. With our meagre salary of Rs 10,000 per month, we cannot afford to cough up the sum of Rs 50,000. Moreover, the officials hold our certificates. With no option left, we have to silently suffer the rude behaviour meted out to us. But we cannot allow any more suicides," said Jibin, a male nurse who joined the strike.

At the other end, the hospital authorities announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh for Beena's family. An autopsy was performed last night on Beena's body at the Cooper hospital post mortem centre, and the family is scheduled to take her body to Kerala soon.

Hospital authorities maintained that operations were not affected by the strike, with a team of 30 senior nurses running the show. They said that the two planned surgical procedures had been performed according to schedule.

Relatives of patients, however, had a different story to tell. KG Agnihotri, relative of a patient, told MiD DAY, "The patient is being cared for, but the nurses that we see in the wards on regular days are nowhere to be found."

At around 3:30 pm, when the hospital management agreed to the demands raised by the nurses, promising to return their documents as soon as they rejoin. Nurses however, want to be allowed the freedom to resign. "A majority of us are not interested in working for this hospital. Once we get our certificates, most of us will resign," said a nurse.

Dr Ramlingam Mali, president of the Maharashtra Nursing Council said, "This is a harsh system no doubt, but students should not sign such agreements in the first place. We have already abolished the bond system in nursing institutes. How can private hospitals enforce them?"
On the issue of the certificates, he said, "This is a clear case of blackmailing. They cannot collect and keep original certificates with them. The only purpose of the certificates is verification."

The other side
Dr Vijay D Silva, medical director, Asian Heart Institute, issued a statement, saying, 'The bond between the hospital and the nurses is a legitimate bond, signed as per the Supreme Court of India, which stipulates a minimum service period of two years, against training provided to them. Once the nurses rejoin work, we will return their documents. If they don't show up, they will be considered as absconding."

Other cases
Dr Sujit Chaterjee, CEO, Dr LH Hiranandani hospital, said, "We never keep the original documents of any of our employees. We use them for verification, and then return them, keeping copies."

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