The Madras High Court, on Wednesday, declared as illegal the strike by government nurses appointed on consolidated pay and directed them to return to work forthwith or end up facing penal proceedings. The court held that those in-charge of providing essential services cannot be allowed to hold the nation to ransom.
Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M. Sundar passed the interim order on a public interest litigation petition filed by Chennai-based advocate N. Ganesh through his counsel G. Saibaba. The petitioner had pointed out that poor patients in government hospitals and primary healthcare centres were put to severe hardship due to the strike.
Finding force in the petitioner’s submission, the Chief Justice came down heavily on the nurses during the course of arguments on the case and said: “You are legitimately entitled to negotiate across the table with the government, but you can’t go on strike like this. There may be critically ill children and other patients admitted to government hospitals.”
When a counsel representing two different associations of nurses contended that their members were paid a paltry sum of ₹7,000 a month during the first year of employment and ₹7,700 in the second year, and therefore, they had no option but to strike work, the CJ said: “If it is not suiting you, you resign and go. You cannot make patients suffer.”
Status report on Jan. 8
Making it clear that the court would direct the government to consider the grievances of the nurses only if they get back to work immediately, the Chief Justice asked Advocate-General Vijay Narayan to ensure that the government begins negotiations for improvement of their service conditions, including remuneration, after the strike was withdrawn.
The High Court Registry was directed to list the PIL petition on January 8 for filing of a status report on the outcome of the negotiations between the nurses and the government. The judges also orally directed the government to desist from taking disciplinary action against the nurses if they return to work by Thursday.
In his submissions, the Advocate-General told the court that there were 13,960 government nurses in the State, and of them, over 11,000 were appointed on contract basis. Stating that government had been regularising the services of contract nurses as and when vacancies arise, he said that around 2,000 of them alone had resorted to strike.
“About 500 nurses agreed to withdraw the strike yesterday after the talks with the government and approximately 1,500 are continuing the strike,” the AG said.