sector in terminal stage
the Health Sector Trade Union Alliance (HSTUA) threatening to go
on strike tomorrow (26) following the failure of provincial health
authorities to implement the order made by Premier Mahinda
Rajapakse to grant salary hikes accordance to the February 2 ad
hoc circular, chaos continues to reign within the health system in
year during the United National Front (UNF) regime, approximately
100 days of work for health services personnel were lost due to
unwanted trade union action causing severe inconvenience to the
public. Apart from striking on salary issues, HSTUA held a strike
last week at Kandy General Hospital because a union member was
transferred, which they claim was a deliberate action taken by
reason behind this kind of trade union action is basically the
salary issues faced by different categories of employees within
the health sector. Trade unions representing minor staff -HSTUA,
Assistant Medical Officers-Society of Assistant and Registered
Medical Officers (SRAMO), and unions representing the government
medical officers - Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA)
are in competition with each other to strike on salary related
issues, thereby paralysing the health system in Sri Lanka.
both past and present have resorted to various strategies to solve
this issue. However, their efforts have failed due to the
inconsistency within the health system in Sri Lanka. The UNF
government during the year 2002 appointed a committee headed by
Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Health, Dr. Nihal
Jayatilake, to solve the crisis. According to recommendations of
this committee a circular was issued.
to this circular Assistant Medical Officers (AMO) and Registered
Medical Officers (RMO) would receive a higher pay than us,"
said Spokesman, GMOA, Dr. Annuruddha Pahadeniya. He told The
Sunday Leader that this circular would not only generate salary
anomalies but also affect promotions within the health sector.
Another attempt was made this Februrary by the former UNF regime
to solve this problem. An ad hoc circular was issued to increase
salaries of all categories of employees within the health sector.
This effort however failed to resolve the crisis, since salary
hikes were granted only to the central government employees of
HSTUA leaving out around 40,000 members of provincial councils.
Furthermore, AMOs and RMOs salaries hikes were temporarily halted
on February 6, by the Health Ministry.
can the Ministry cancel our salary hikes when other sectors
received their salary hikes, despite this circular being approved
by the cabinet," spokesman, SRAMO, Dr. S. Jeewakarathne told
The Sunday Leader. Additional Secretary Health Ministry, Dr. Nihal
Jayatilake told The Sunday Leader that the Ministry had to suspend
the ad hoc circular for SRAMO members due to disparities between
the SRAMO and the GMOA. However he declined to comment further,
saying that this issue has been forwarded to the Tissa Devendra
committee for a solution. Jeewakarathne said that Prime Minster
Rajapakse had promised a final solution before September 1.
However, he warned that if the PM fails to keep his promise they
would resort to trade union action without any prior notice.
"We have stated this in the letter we sent to both the Prime
Minster and the Health Minister," he emphasised.
HSTUA Saman Ratnapriya, told The Sunday Leader that they have
given the government a limited time frame to solve their problem.
According to Ratnapriya, the Prime Minister had ordered
authorities of provincial councils to provide the necessary pay
hikes for the remaining casual and substitute employees of HSTUA.
"Why aren't the provincial councils following the orders of
the Prime Minister?" queries Ratnapriya. Prior to the
recently concluded provincial council election, the HSTUA
threatened to take trade union action. It was then that the Prime
Minister intervened to postpone the strike, promising solutions
before July 15.
month around 80,000 workers of HSTUA took sick leave and
participated in a one day stoppage throughout the island. On the
same day more than 10,000 workers demonstrated in front of the
Health Ministry to voice their demands.
of September 2003?
regime faced a crucial period last September when HSTUA organised
an islandwide strike paralysing the entire health services system,
which eventually led to the government having to seek the
assistance of the armed forces as a substitute for minor staff.
Though the HSTUA has waged many protracted campaigns for increased
pay, and at one point even accepted various UNF promises, many of
these have not been fulfilled, according to sources. The UNF
government was finally forced to grant a 40% in installments in
Februrary, to avert a health crisis in the country.
an alliance of around 50 public health sector unions comprise
about 80,000 members islandwide. This union is considered the
largest health sector trade union in Sri Lanka and covers
non-medical staff of the public health sector as well, including
clerks, midwifes, hospital attendants, substitute workers and a
section of nurses. Most of these employees are low paid and have
supported a lengthy campaign for decent wages.
HSTUA and SRAMO are urging the government to increase salaries
according to the ad hoc circular issued on February 2, the GMOA
wants this circular to be proscribed by the government.
"This circular is extremely unbalanced and will place
a huge burden on the government," stressed Pahadeniya.
According to Pahadeniya, if the government goes ahead with this
circular it would cost the treasury around Rs. 35 billion in
additional payments for salaries to staff of health sector alone.
He said only 75% of salary anomalies in the February 2 circular
have been implemented. Therefore he suggests that the Tissa
Devendra Committee should immediately halt the balance 25% being
implemented, while the already implemented 75% should be revised
or at least temporarily halted.
the view of the GMOA, Ratnapriya emphasised that if the GMOA wants
the ad hoc circular issued on February to be cancelled, they
should first cancel the circular issued last September that
provided the GMOA a salary increase of around 45%.
Pahadeniya points out that the February 2 circular would provide
nurses or matrons with a higher salary than medical officers,
which he terms extremely unfair. He points out that it is the
doctors that take full responsibility for patients. "We can
substitute the minor staff quite easily, but how can we substitute
a medical practitioner?" he asks. According to Pahadeniya
salaries of employees in the health sector should be based on
authority and responsibility. "We have to undergo extensive
training for more than seven years. Therefore we should receive a
better salary than other sectors of the health service," he
a letter sent to the Public Sector Salary Review Committee, the
GMOA has recommended that the criteria followed in the salary
structure of the judicial service should be adhered to in the
health services sector as well.
according to Ratnapriya, issues claimed by GMOA regarding salaries
and authority are fragmented and aimed at misleading both the
public and authorities. But the GMOA has insisted that the Tissa
Devendra Committee look in to the salary anomalies of the health
sector and come up with a solution. "Experts should handle
this matter not medical officers in the Health Ministry. This
committee consists of specialists who can approach the problem
positively," pointed out Pahadeniya.
SRAMO and HSTUA are not keen to have the Tissa Devendra Committee
deal with this matter but are simply insisting that the ad hoc
circulars issued on February 2 should be implemented.
its election campaign, the UPFA played on widespread public
discontent over low living standards, making a series of promises
to workers and the rural masses. During this period, the UPFA
promised all health employees that they would rectify their salary
anomalies and bring about a permanent solution to their
grievances. However, recently Health Minister, Nimal Siripala De
Silva stated that these problems were created by the previous
regime and was not of his own making. According to economists
however, the UPFA is under pressure to rectify the necessary
anomalies which would cost the government large sums of money,
despite the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and
other donor agencies withholding US$4.5 billion in economic aid,
pending peace talks with the LTTE and economic reforms being
year the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), one of the UPFA's main
coalition partners, led health unions to action. The All Ceylon
Health Services Union (ACHSU), which postured as the most militant
union within the HSTUA, left the alliance several months ago,
while its leaders are doing their best to undermine the joint
struggle, according to a member of a health sector trade union.
to sources, last month, senior members of ACHSU met with Health
Minister, Nimal Siripala De Silva and distanced their union from
the HSTUA by stating that the Minister had promised to solve their
the JVP in their trade union newspaper Ratu Lanka, said that
certain trade unions were involved in a conspiracy to topple the
government. According to them the conspiracy would take place in
five stages. The first stage would be a media campaign against the
government, the second stage is to identify fields where they
possess influence, thirdly to inform workers that salary increases
have been scrapped and instigate trade union struggles in those
fields and finally to spread discontent about the UPFA government.
these allegations, Ratnapriya said that the JVP was no longer
fighting for the rights of trade unions and are instead working to
safeguard the government. "When they were in opposition they
too joined us in trade union action. However, today, they are
betraying thousands of the very workers they incited to
action," he emphasised.
all three trade unions have warned of drastic union action if the
government fails to implement their demands. "If the
government fails to implement the promises by providing a salary
increase according to the circular we would resort to trade union
action next week," said Ratnapriya. According to Ratnapriya,
Castle Street Hospital, De Soyza Hospital, Cancer Hospital and
Lady Ridgeway Hospital employees would not participate in the
to Dr. Pahadeniya, if the government implements further ad hoc
circulars to solve this crisis they would in turn take trade union
action. "As a responsible union we are trying our best to
avoid trade union action. However, if the government tries to give
in to the demands of HSTUA employees we would certainly take
action," said Pahadeniya.
these trade unions threatening to take trade union action if their
demands are not met, the Public Service United Nurses Union (PSUNU)
said they would refrain from trade union action. PSUNU said that
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse agreed to resolve the salary
anomalies faced by their union following successful discussions.
according to Dr. Jayatilake, all issues have been forwarded to the
Tissa Devendra Committee for action. "Presently the Ministry
will not make salary anomaly revisions," Jayatilake pointed
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