- Around 25,000 people are employed in the paramedic services sector and trade unions affirm that they are working for a pittance
- Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) has questioned trade unions on the demands that they made prior to launching strike action
On Tuesday (January 9), staffers in the paramedic services launched an unannounced token strike that crippled the country’s already ailing healthcare sector. The strike was launched in wake of the government approving to double the Disturbance, Availability and Transport (DAT) allowance for doctors by Rs. 70,000, but refused the same for technicians, laboratory workers and other staffers employed in the paramedic services sector. As a result public health inspectors (PHIs), public health midwives, ophthalmic technicians, laboratory technicians and employees in several other sectors later announced that they would continue strike action for another 48 hours with effect from Tuesday demanding the government to approve a Rs. 35,000 allowance for them as well.
A fair demand?
“It has been six months since we requested authorities to increase the fuel allowance of Rs. 1200 that is being provided to employees in the paramedic services,” said PHI Union President Upul Rohana. “Hospital staff has complained of lapses in transport facilities. The DAT allowance provided for the paramedic services staff is only Rs. 3000. Therefore it is unfair that the government approved an allowance only for the doctors,” he added.
Around 25,000 people are employed in the paramedic services sector and according to the trade unions, they have been working for a pittance. “We thought it wouldn’t be appropriate to launch trade union action as the government was facing an economic crisis. But it now looks like the government indeed has money and therefore we too are demanding a considerable allowance than what is already being paid to us. In addition to the fuel and DAT allowance, paramedic services staff are entitled to overtime and public holiday allowances. But doctors are being paid an overtime allowance that is four times more than what is being paid for employees in this sector,” Rohana further said.
TUsto continue strike action
In a letter addressed to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Joint Council on Paramedic Health Professionals President Ravi Kumudesh expressed his disappointment over granting an allowance only for doctors. The letter reiterated that they would take stern trade union action if their demands are not fulfilled. However staffers at children’s, maternity, kidney and cancer hospitals and the central blood bank would continue their services on a voluntary basis to minimise inconveniences faced by patients. He further said that the strike action would continue in different stages and that they would intensify their actions if the government fails to respond within the week.
TU leaders aggravating the health crisis: GMOA
However the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) questioned trade unions on the demands that they made prior to launching the strike action. “These employees also requested for a Rs. 20,000 allowance for state sector employees and already the government had approved a Rs. 10,000 allowance,” said GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge. “There are various categories in the administrative service and the allowances for doctors differ from those allocated for employees in other categories. Therefore it is rather funny to see employees in the paramedic services demanding the same benefits as those allocated for doctors. So far the government has approved 50% of their demand by granting a Rs. 10,000 allowance for state sector employees but the government has failed to approve at least 10% of demands made by doctors,” said Dr. Aluthge.
Speaking about the allowance granted for doctors Dr. Aluthge further said that the government has taken a step in the right direction in ensuring economic justice for doctors. “We repeatedly made the government aware of the assets that they are losing in the wake of multiple crises that affected the country over the past 2-3 years. One of the biggest challenges we faced was in retaining doctors in the country. Therefore we provided various recommendations from time to time and several of these including promotions for doctors in different grades were implemented in the 2024 Budget as well,” he added.
Dr. Aluthge further said that senior employees in the state sector are entitled to a specific transport allowance estimated at Rs. 150,000. “From this they cover their fuel costs, driver fees etc., but doctors weren’t entitled to a transport allowance. Instead what they were entitled to was the DAT allowance. As per the last update in 2015, doctors were promised a Rs. 40,000 allowance but they only received Rs. 35,000. In 2018 the estimated DAT allowance for doctors was Rs. 150,000. However with the recent increase in fuel prices the DAT allowance entitled for doctors is estimated at Rs. 300,000.Therefore the decision to increase this allowance has provided some hope for doctors to continue their services in the country,” he said.