KARACHI / SUKKUR / HYDERABAD: As the government-run hospitals faced difficulties due to the boycott by the nursing and paramedic staff on Wednesday, the protestors themselves were involved in a clash with the police.
Nurses throughout Sindh held a strike in demand of an increase in their salaries and stipend, claiming that their pay and allowances were not at par with the nurses in other provinces.
The demonstration started with the protestors marching from their respective hospitals towards the Governor House. However, a big contingent of police used water canons, tear gas and baton-charge to stop them from approaching the Governor House.
“We were unarmed and only wanted to convey our demands. Is this the way to treat women?” demanded Rubina Razzaq, a nurse from the Civil Hospital Karachi.
Almost 50 protestors, including 20 to 25 women, were arrested and taken to the artillery police station and women’s police station in Saddar, said the Provincial Nurses Association president, Aijaz Ali Kaleri.
Reportedly 20 protestors were injured during the baton-charge and police action, including a woman and male nurse who were severely injured and taken to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre’s (JPMC) intensive care unit.
“They threw dirty water on us, it was slippery and most nurses could not even stand,” said Sultana, a nurse from JPMC. “Then they started shelling and fired tear gas on us.”
Following the clash with the policemen, the protestors assembled at the press club and shouted slogans against the Sindh police.
Almost 1,000 staff members from civil hospital and 1,000 staff members from JPMC were part of the protest.
Demands and rebuttals
“Sindh earns the most revenue for the country and yet, its workers are treated with discrimination,” alleged Kaleri.
The Nursing Sindh director, Zarina Habib, pointed out that there are about 19 nursing schools in the province, 13 for females and six for males, out of which only five have administrative powers. The demands put forward include a monthly allowance of Rs10,000 for food and uniform, time-scale promotions, an increased stipend for nursing students and the high-risk and hard workers allowances that according to the protestors are provided to nurses in other provinces. Later, the health secretary, Syed Hashim Raza Zaidi, held a press conference. “When we have already sent the summary of their approved demands on the administrative route, then what is this protest about?” he asked. He questioned the ‘agitation’ of the nurses and paramedics, saying that it was the first time they had brought their demands and action has already been taken. Condemning their boycott in the emergency departments, he said that he received complaints from heads of the hospitals about the effect on patients.
However, it was not clear which of the demands were approved in the summary that was sent forward. The protesting staff declared that they were not convinced to end the protest. “We want a notification,” said Kaleri. “Whatever the secretary is saying is all a façade as they did not even listen to those demands that were in their power.”
Province-wide protests and reactions
In Sukkur, the civil hospital’s nursing staff boycotted work and staged a demonstration. The Nurses Association’s Sukkur president, Irshad Pathan, said that the nursing staffs in other provinces are getting health allowances equivalent to the basic pay of a nurse, whereas the nurses in Sindh have yet to receive the allowance despite repeated promises.
The protestors condemned the police action on the medical staff in Karachi and announced that a black day would be observed today throughout the district headquarters hospitals in Sindh. Pathan said that doctors and paramedics will also boycott work and participate in the protest in unity with the nurses.
Nurses in several districts of Hyderabad and Mirpurkhas also voiced their anger against the police’s charge on their colleagues in Karachi.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2012.