LAHORE: Tempers flared and small fights broke out as public sector nurses stepped up their campaign for better pay by staging a rally on The Mall on Thursday.
More than 300 nurses from across the province gathered at the Lahore Press Club in the morning and marched towards Charing Cross demanding that they get better pay and allowances in line with the package given to doctors.
Special Health Secretary Daud Muhammad Khan Bareach arrived at the rally and urged the nurses to send representatives inside to the Punjab Assembly building to meet and negotiate with the government.
The nurses refused, insisting that negotiations take place in front of the television cameras.
The protest lasted from around 10 am to 5 pm and included several ugly incidents. As in recent rallies on The Mall, those with businesses in the area, particularly owners of shops in Panorama Centre, confronted the protestors for violating the ban on rallies there and disrupting commerce.
They staged their own small protest against the district coordination officer for not stopping the rallies on The Mall at around 2 pm and threatened to pelt the nurses with rotten eggs and tomatoes.
They returned to Faisal Chowk an hour later and started throwing eggs at the protesters. The nurses responded with corncobs. The police intervened and chased the traders away.
Television news channels aired footage of fights between individual policewomen and nurses, though reports of widespread clashes and police baton-charging the protestors were wide of the mark.
The nurses attacked a car and cracked its windscreen. The rally caused major jams on The Mall and nearby roads.
The nurses said that they wanted negotiations with the Punjab government to be held in front of the media as they did not want to be “fooled again”. They said that they would stage a protest in front of the chief minister’s official residence in GOR-I on Friday.
Shehnaz, a nurse at Services Hospital, said the government had broken a promise made months earlier to give nurses better pay through new allowances. “Doctors get a night allowance, anaesthesia allowance and radiation allowance. We work in the same conditions as them so why can’t we get similar allowances?”
Shazia, a nurse from Multan, said she had travelled with around a hundred colleagues from south Punjab for the protest in Lahore. She said that nurses were severely overworked, as there was only one for every 80 patients. She said nurses should get better pay, promotions and fewer work hours.
Saeed Elahi, the parliamentary health secretary, said that he had tried to negotiate with the nurses on Thursday, but they had been unable to even nominate a leader to conduct negotiations on their behalf. He said that government representatives would meet with 15 nurse leaders on Friday. He denied that the government had broken promises made to the nurses. He said they had already been given more allowances and promotions and now they had made additional demands. He said the problem would not be resolved overnight.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2011.
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