|The News Line: Feature
Monday, 10 April 2017
Sri Lanka doctors strike against privatisation
A STRIKE by doctors over private medical universities gripped Sri Lanka on Friday.
The country-wide strike action was launched by the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA). Executive member Dr. Nalinda Herath said several trade unions have joined the strike action. Dr. Herath also said that the strike will not affect the Maharagama Cancer Hospital, De Soysa Maternity Hospital, Lady Ridgeway Hospital and Peradeniya Children’s Hospital.
The Colombo District Court on Thursday issued notices on the officials of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) to appear before the court on May 4 while refusing to issue an enjoining order preventing the state doctors’ union from engaging in a token strike on Friday.
Members of the GMOA, consultant doctors and over 150 health and other trade unions took part in Friday’s island-wide strike, halting all health services including private practice and private health services to demand that the government abolishes the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM), also known as the private medical college of Malabe.
GMOA Secretary Dr Naveen de Zoysa told a media briefing on Thursday that about 150 trade unions and associations have joined hands with them to protest against the SAITM.
He said all state medical officers would be refraining from engaging in services from 8.00 am Friday to 8.00 am on Saturday.
‘All medical officers including ayurvedic doctors, dental and veterinary surgeons will strike tomorrow.
‘The state doctors will also refrain from private practices until Saturday morning. A massive protest march and a public rally will also be held tomorrow in Colombo against the SAITM,’ he said. He said the workers attached to other trade unions would hold demonstrations and protest marches around the country.
However, he said several hospitals including the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children, Castle Street Hospital for Women, De Soysa Hospital for Women in Colombo and Sirimavo Bandaranaike Specialised Children’s Hospital in Kandy would be open for patients even during the strike.
‘Some hospitals in the Eastern Province will also continue their medical treatments as usual since those areas have been affected with the influenza virus. Treatment for kidney patients will also continue without any hindrance,’ he said.
Inter University students Federation, National Trade Union Centre, Association of Medical Faculty’s Lectures, All Island Nurses’ Union and Ceylon Teachers Union were also among the associations protesting against the SAITM on Friday. The doctors’ strike began as a 24-hour strike by electricians ended.
This strike by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) Joint Trade Unions Alliance was launched from Wednesday, April 5 midnight against the alleged oppression of trade unions and to urge the government to rectify CEB employees’ salary anomalies.
‘We are looking at a massive strike, which involves drivers, storekeepers and all the employees. In a case of a breakdown, no employee will be available to repair them, till Friday morning,’ Ceylon Electricity Employees Union (CEEU) Secretary Ranjan Jayalal said on Wednesday.
He said all of the CEB’s work would be hindered on Thursday at all its plants. ‘Bill payment, maintenance, tender calling are some of the other procedures which will be affected,’ he said. He said the main objective of the strike was to rectify the current salary anomaly within the CEB.
‘The standard salary difference between the management level and lower level employees should be 4:1. Any salary increase should be made based on this rate.
‘However, it was changed to 5:1 in 2012. Then government agreed to rectify this by increasing salaries of all employees by 30 per cent in 2014,’ he said. He said at present, management level employees enjoy a salary hike between 70-120 per cent while other employees’ salary had only been increased by 30 per cent following two discreet gazettes issued on last presidential Election Day.
‘CEB top management officials’ salaries were increased during the last Presidential Election so the politicians could distribute light posts and other CEB properties during the election. When we raised the issue, they agreed to increase the salaries of all employees, but on the Election Day, two different Gazette notices were issued,’ the CEEU leader said.
He said they had had discussions with Ministers Champika Ranawaka and Ranjith Siyambalapitiya but to no avail. Expressing solidarity with their counterparts across the Palk Bay, Sri Lankan trade unions last Monday April 3 protested against the ‘attack’ on Maruti workers.
With posters displaying slogans in Sinhala, Tamil and English asking the Indian State to stop ‘prosecuting’ workers, leaders and members of different Sri Lanka unions gathered outside the Indian mission’s premises on Colombo’s sea-facing Galle Road.
Observing that workers in India and Sri Lanka faced similar challenges, Anton Marcus, Joint Secretary of the Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union said that often, imprisonment was used to intimidate working people and to discourage them from unionising in future.
‘That is what we are seeing in this case involving Maruti workers. It is important that we stand in solidarity in times like these,’ he said. In March this year, a district court in New Delhi sentenced 13 workers of Maruti Udyog to life imprisonment for allegedly killing the Human Resources manager at its plant in Manesar in 2012.
‘We are terribly concerned about the repression of workers in India, especially in this case of life imprisonment for the Maruti workers. We oppose and condemn this,’ said Linus Jayatilake, President of the Union Federation of Labour.
The group of protesters, numbering nearly 30 persons, included student-activists from the Inter-University Student Federation of Sri Lanka, which works across 10 state universities in the island.
‘This is not an issue about India alone, we see very similar problems here as well,’ said Federation convener Lahiru Weerasekara, referring to a recent case in which the Sri Lankan police reportedly slapped heavy fines on 37 contractual workers of the Ceylon Electricity Board who had protested demanding permanent employment.
‘This attack on workers cannot be seen outside of the domination of a neoliberal state. Police or legal action is only a way of telling them ‘this is what we will do if you protest demanding your rights,’ the student leader said.
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