GMOA strikes the norm, while chaos reigns! | Sunday Observer

GMOA strikes the norm, while chaos reigns!

Hundreds of patients gathered in hospitals berated the doctors for the protest
Hundreds of patients gathered in hospitals berated the doctors for the protest

Joining the series of demonstrations happening around the country, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) launched another trade union action, last week. This time their demand was based on salary increments following a hike given to the judiciary.

Addressing a press conference on September 19, Secretary to the GMOA Dr Haritha Aluthge told the media that the Government’s arbitrary decision to increase wages in the judiciary has created a severe anomaly in the entire salary structure.

“We are all experiencing the aftermath of the Government going against the national wage policy. To rectify the wrong decision taken, they are now making more and more errors. We have never seen a messy government like this in recent history. When they increased salaries in the judiciary in 2018 through a Gazette, the Government should have foreseen that such a problem would arise. We continuously protested against that move. But the Government did not pay any attention,” he explained.

He made these remarks concluding a ‘successful’ trade union action which put patients across the country into a jeopardy. The 24-hour token strike of doctors started at 8 am last Thursday and continued till 8 am, the following day. (However, it did not take place at the Cancer, Pediatric and Women’s wards and hospitals). Hundreds of patients gathered in hospitals berated the doctors as well as the Government as it was they who faced the hardship, as usual.

Former Commissioner, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, Javid Yusuf told the Sunday Observer, the GMOA violates the rights of the public to reach health services each time they go on strike. “This is totally unprofessional. Doctors are different from the ordinary working class, in that they are recognized as professionals. Especially, strike action should be their last resort after a long process of negotiation,” Yusuf said.

He added,“If you take the number of strikes by different organisations, probably the GMOA would have staged the most number of strikes. Irrespective of whether their demands are justified or not, they must adopt a better way to address their grievances rather than resorting to strike action.”

Dr Haritha Aluthge justified the reasons for the strike launched buy the GMOA, at the same media briefing. He said, having served as a medical officer for 19 years, his last month’s take-home salary was Rs 120,000. He criticized the salary hike in the Attorney General’s department stating that a junior state counsel at the AG’s department earns a monthly salary of more than Rs. 384,000, according to the current salary structure.

However, a senior consultant told the Sunday Observer that even a medical practitioner soon after completion of the internship would get a take-home salary of Rs 170,000. “I know this for sure, as my daughter just completed her internship and received the appointment. When it comes to senior consultants, they earn about Rs. 300,000. They demand salary hikes but no one talks whether they cover their due working hours,” the doctor opined on grounds of anonymity.

According to him, medical doctors are bound to cover 36 working hours every week, which they barely do. “As doctors, we have to put in 36 hours of duty every week. But most of them without even coming to hospital claim all the perks, because we do not sign a book” he explained.

He said, “They have a special perk called ‘Extra Duty’ introduced in 2006. Now, doctors who are never sighted in hospitals claim around 100 odd hours of extra duty pay.”

In other words, extra duty is the overtime payment structure of doctors.

They are allowed to claim a maximum of 4 hours per day as extra duty. The most junior grade doctor receives Rs 600 as per hour payment under extra duty. According to the senior consultant, a large number of doctors claim extra duty payments without their presence in hospitals, perhaps earning more at private practice.

In this reality, a self-assessment in the medical fraternity is needed more than ever before. It is not because of how much they receive but to evaluate the outcome of their service. The simple question is, can doctors, who earned their profession thanks to public money, take patients (the public) into hostage inhumanly to win their salary increments?