Saturday 17th June, 2023
A health sector strike is something the public needs like a hole in the head, especially at this juncture. Most people are struggling to keep the wolf from the door, and a square meal is a luxury for them. Needless to say, they cannot afford treatment at private medical institutions. Even those who used to bear out-of-pocket healthcare expenses for the sake of convenience have come to be dependent on state-run hospitals owing to the economic crisis. But the government does not care to prevent trade union struggles in the public sector health institutions. In fact, its confrontational approach provokes trade unions into resorting to muscle-flexing to have their grievances redressed.
The state-sector pharmacists yesterday went on a strike against some controversial transfers, which the Health Ministry has, true to form, sought to justify. The strikers have threatened to intensify their trade union action unless the transfers are cancelled forthwith. A health panjandrum has engineered the transfers of some senior pharmacists to facilitate corrupt drug procurement deals, trade unionists alleged. This allegation must be probed.
The government usually resorts to brinkmanship, causing trade union battles to drag on and then gives in or opts for a compromise formula. It has to settle trade union disputes before they get out of hand. Trade unions are also not free from blame; they launch strikes at the drop of a hat to win their demands, but do precious little to ensure that their members carry out their duties and functions diligently. They must also act with restraint for the sake of the public.
What matters most, in our book, is not who is right or wrong where the ongoing health sector strike is concerned; instead, it is the rights of the ordinary public, who have faced a double whammy.
Other paramedical workers in the state sector have also warned that unless the health authorities take prompt action to solve their problems, they too will launch a strike within a week or so.
It is the interests of the public, who pays through the nose for maintaining the state sector health institutions, among other things, that should prevail. Most issues that give rise to trade union struggles in the health sector could be sorted out amicably if the stakeholders discuss their problems instead of going for one another’s jugular much to the detriment of the interests of the public.
Let the government be urged to get the warring trade unions around the table urgently, and make a serious effort to end the strike, which is causing untold suffering to the sick. It should not make the mistake of employing strongarm tactics, such as declaring health as an essential service and threatening to seize the assets of strikers.