Health unions on strike for 2nd day today

BY Buddhika Samaraweera

The token strike launched by 16 non-medical health sector trade unions (TUs), including those of the nursing and paramedical services, public health inspectors (PHIs), and medical laboratory technologists (MLTs), demanding that the Government provide immediate solutions to their issues including those relating to salary and promotion, continues for the second day today (25).

Nursing and paramedical trade unions announced that a token strike will be launched for 48 hours, from 7 a.m. yesterday (24), due to several issues they face. In addition to the strike, they had also organised several protests yesterday.

Speaking at a media briefing held yesterday, Government Nursing Officers’ Association (GNOA) President Saman Rathnapriya warned that if the Government does not take action to resolve their demands even after the 48-hour strike, they will go on a continuous strike next week.

“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,” he added.

However, Rathnapriya noted that all Covid-19 vaccinations and Covid-19 testing, including conducting PCR 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.”

He also added: “The strike is being waged because there is nothing else to do. We have made a number of written requests to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, Health Ministry Secretary Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe, and DGHS Dr. Asela Gunawardena, but so far no action has been taken to resolve these issues.”

Rathnapriya also said that they are ready to take a decision on the strike immediately if the issues are resolved, but said that they had no choice but to go on a continuous strike next week if the Government continues to ignore their demands.

Meanwhile, College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President Ravi Kumudesh also addressed the media during the same press briefing.

He alleged that the President is only discussing the current issues in the health sector with the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), adding that the GMOA, however, is against 90% of the other trade unions which are active in the health sector, and therefore, there was no point in discussing with them.

“We would like to tell the President and the Prime Minister not to discuss only with the trade unions affiliated with the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) when discussing these issues,” he added.

He also said that while they have launched a token strike because the people were suffering, they would, however, not hesitate to launch a continuous strike at any moment if their demands are not met with a positive response from the Government.

Rambukwella, Dr. Munasinghe, and Dr. Gunawardena were not available for comment.