‘Manipal targeted because of Indian link’

February 3rd, 2009 - 5:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Feb 3 (IANS) Continuing to reel under an indefinite strike called by the ruling Maoist party’s trade union since Monday, the teaching hospital run by the Manipal College of Medical Sciences in Pokhara says the shutdown is not over a demand for pay hike but because of its Indian connection.Established in 1994 as a joint venture between the Manipal Group of India and the government of Nepal, the college and hospital have been experiencing frequent disruptions since last year after the former Maoist guerrillas came to power through an election and their trade union began to fight for supremacy at Manipal.

“Because of the Manipal name, we are regarded as a Jersey cow,” says B.M. Nagpal, dean at the medical college. “Kick it and it will give milk, that’s the public perception.”

While the Maoist trade union is projecting the strike as a bid to ensure that the hospital pays its non-teaching staff the revised minimum wages announced by the government last year, Nagpal says that was never the issue.

“We already pay more than the minimum wages determined by the government,” he told IANS.

“In fact, in 2007, we signed an agreement with the then dominant trade union affiliated to the Nepali Congress party to give a 20 percent pay hike. The agreement is supposed to be valid till July 2009.”

However, with the Maoist trade union entering the scene, it began asking for an additional 40 percent hike last year. Facing competition, the old union decided to shelve the agreement and seek NRS 2,000 more.

Nagpal says the hospital entered into fresh negotiations even though Nepal’s labour laws empower it not to hike wages till July. They are now offering to pay NRS 1,500 more, which has been spurned by the Maoists.

“There is a recession,” says Nagpal. “And it has affected us too. We run the hospital at subsidised rates and make no profit. Our source of income - the tuition fee made by the nearly 200 students in the college - has decreased due to the number of foreign students going down drastically.”

The official also points out that the authorities have met most other demands, like for over-time work and night allowances.

All services except emergency have stopped since Monday, forcing over 70 new patients to seek other hospitals. From Tuesday, classes have also stopped after the strikers locked the classrooms.

“We have brought the matter to the notice of the health and education ministries,” Nagpal said. “The Maoist trade union leadership in Kathmandu has also been informed.

“If the strike continues, we will be forced to shut down emergency services as well since they can’t be run without other support services.”

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