By Shwetha E. George
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Nurses in Kerala, India, are pushing to change a system that leaves their newest graduates vulnerable to a training year fraught with exploitation by hospitals. "Overnight these graduates become the manual work force of the hospital," says one advocate.
"Six months into the internship, we went on a strike," the nurse said.
That brought in full payment for the second year but there were more problems. In her second year as staff nurse, the hospital once again tried to undercut the payment stipulation set by Calicut. She and other nurses went on strike again and won again.
But the experience did nothing to make her stay in India. She quit the same month she got all her certificates and is now training to work in Canada.
In Maharashtra, almost all private hospitals that work on the "bond" system charge a contract-breaking penalty of about $950.
One woman's case has brought these abuses to national headlines. Beena Baby worked in a prominent cardiac care hospital in Mumbai and was charged with misplacing a patient's electronic chart. Hospital administrators ordered her to pay the cost of replacing the chart or work without pay for the rest of the year. Either way, she stood to lose her experience certificate. Rather than face her parents, still toiling hard to pay off her educational loan, the 22-year-old nurse chose suicide in October, according to those who knew her.
In Kerala, private nursing colleges charge around $1,370 a year for the four-year bachelor of science nursing degree. Ninety percent of students here take out loans to meet these costs, says Bhasan.
"My students come from the poorest of families in Kerala. I can only plead for their sake to the management," she says.
The Trained Nurses Association in Kerala is tackling the system in court.
"We want absolute abolition of the bond system," says Kochu Thressiamma, president of the group's Kerala chapter. "We are also asking for a salary revision and leave allowances."
Bhasan says enrollment in private nursing colleges has dropped sharply in recent years and those who are still lining up to take these courses are looking for a way to make a living in the West.
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This article is adapted from one that was released by the Women's Feature Service. For more articles on women's issues log on to: http://www.wfsnews.org.
Shwetha E. George is a correspondent for the Women's Feature Service, based in Mumbai, India.
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