Health unions end token strike warning of longer strike

BY Buddhika Samaraweera

Non-medical health sector trade unions (TUs) that were engaged in a 48-hour token strike demanding that the Government provide immediate solutions to their issues, including those relating to salaries and promotions, yesterday (25) warned that they would initiate a continuous strike from 30 November, if their demands are not met with a positive response from the Government.

The token strike launched by 16 non-medical health sector trade unions, including those of the nursing and paramedical services, public health inspectors (PHIs), and medical laboratory technologists (MLTs) continued for the second day yesterday.

Speaking at a media briefing held yesterday, Government Nursing Officers’ Association (GNOA) President Saman Rathnapriya said they are always ready to negotiate the issues with the Government.

“We saw Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa informing the Parliament that there is a salary anomaly issue in the health sector and that the same needs to be addressed. However, making such statements is not enough. They should sit with us and discuss the matter. Then only will it be possible to identify these anomalies,” he added.

Rathnapriya also said that if there are any financial difficulties for the Government, the trade unions are ready to understand such issues too. However, he said the Government should take immediate steps to address their issues, despite such difficulties. He added that the Government has been given a period of six days to come up with solutions to their issues and warned that the failure to do so will lead to a continuous strike action islandwide, starting from 30 November.

Nursing and paramedical trade unions launched a token strike for 48 hours from 7 a.m. on Wednesday (24) due to several issues they face. Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Rathnapriya said: “About 16 trade unions are involved in this token strike, which is being supported by nearly 55,000 health professionals representing 1,100 hospitals and 365 medical officers of health (MOH) offices islandwide. However, we continue to provide emergency services. Also, the strike will not be effective at specialised hospitals such as the Castle Street Teaching Hospital for Women, the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children, and the National Cancer Institute/Apeksha Hospital, and hospitals treating Covid-19 patients.”

However, Rathnapriya noted that all Covid-19 vaccinations and Covid-19 testing, including conducting PCR tests and rapid antigen tests (RATs), had been disrupted as PHIs were also involved in the strike. He further said that in addition, hospital care services, medical tests, and the issuance of medicines will not take place.

Elaborating on the reasons that led to the strike, he explained: “The salary revisions recommended by a committee appointed in 2009 have not yet been implemented and as a result, the serious salary anomalies in the health service have not been addressed. The Government has also failed to do justice to approximately 13,000 nurses who have been affected through a circular related to promotions. In addition, there are many issues with regard to the promotions of non-medical professionals.”

Speaking further, he said that officers in services including nursing and paramedical services and allied medicine, no matter how highly educated they may be, have to perform normal duties. Therefore, he emphasised that a system needs to be put in place to enable them to move to higher positions.

“Non-medical officers, no matter how high their degrees are, do normal duties. They don’t have a position that matches their educational qualifications and opportunities to go up, but a doctor who comes to Sri Lanka with a higher educational qualification of six months abroad can go up to the level of the Director General of Health Services (DGHS),” he added.

Further claiming that the majority of the administrative staff in the health sector at present are doctors, Rathnapriya alleged: “Today, the health sector has collapsed due to the administrative service being centred on doctors. Therefore, this should become a health administration service.”