ECONOMYNEX – Forty-four health sector unions went on strike for five hours on Monday (27) in Sri Lanka over a number of demands, prompting authorities to ask the workers not to take their frustrations out on the public and risk triggering another wave of COVID-19.
Primary healthcare workers started the strike at 7am Monday, demanding the following from the government:
- Provide facilities for staff to fight COVD-19
- Pay the 7,500 rupees’ allowance till the pandemic is over
- Fill remaining vacancies
- Make the health service a closed service
- Remove overtime pay limits
- Grant COVID-19 special leave without cuts
- Do not attach multi-purpose development force employees to medical institutes
- Issue circulars related to staff service status immediately
The strikers were joined by health workers in all hospitals except those dedicated to COVID-19 treatment, the Lady Ridgeway Children’s Hospital.
President of the Government Nursing Officers’ Association Saman Rathnapriya told reporters that management had failed to provide the support needed for health workers during the pandemic.
“It costs around 15-20,000 rupees for these workers to come to the hospital to do their duty because there is no public transport during the lockdown,” he said.
“They have to buy their own masks. And they get low quality PPE kits in which they carry out their duties.”
The unions said even though the number of COVID-19 patients is going down in Sri Lanka, the risk posed for health workers remains the same.
Health officials are concerned that strikes and other trade union action will result in lose gains made over the epidemic.
“We have gained control of the situation to a certain extent,” Deputy Director of Health Services Dr Hemantha Herath told reporters.
“We saw earlier as well how cases started to increase with these strikes by unions. We are not saying their issues o should be neglected or their rights to express should be violated. But everyone should be responsible for improving and protecting the level of control we have obtained.”
Meanwhile, State Minister of Indigenous Medicine Promotion, Rural and Ayurveda Hospitals Development and Community Health Sisira Jayakody said the unions must not inconvenience the general public over issues that should be discussed with the government.
“All these problems should be discussed and resolved. Don’t take this out on the general public that doesn’t have anything to do with it. It is really sad if health workers are supporting these unions led by some parties at a time of crisis like this,” Jayakody told reporters.
Spokespersons for the government have on several occasions blamed the country’s Delta variant-led third wave on protests, though no evidence has been forthcoming to substantiate the claim. (Colombo/Sep27/2021)