THE sad plight of the contract doctors in the country is a reminder of the abysmal lack of effective representation. Since the doctors are considered to be in “essential services” they are not represented by trade unions or any other forms of representation.The existence of dialogue councils in various departments hardly addresses the issue of wages and allowances. CUPEACS (Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services) is reputed to represent civil servants in general, with the exception of those in the essential and strategic services.
Even if CUEPACS doesn’t provide a direct representation of the civil servants, they can certainly air the longstanding grievances of the civil servants in general and contract doctors in particular.However, CUEPACS just like other trade union federations in the country, prefer to be silent on contentious issues, especially the grievances of contract doctors. Reasons are well known why the federation remains ineffective in terms of improving the wellbeing and welfare of the civil servants particularly those in the lower categories. A clandestine or secretive group calling themselves ‘Mogok Doktor Kontrak’ was behind the recent strike initiative. This group had only an Instagram link with a spokesperson called Dr Jamal. It was quite unlike the earlier group called Hartal Doktor Kontrak that organised work stoppages and work to rule initiatives in 2021. Although the earlier group disassociated itself from the present group, the issues highlighted were the same.
The contract doctors, numbering a few thousand, want the government to absorb them as permanent doctors, increase their wages and allowances and provide for promotion. I really don’t know why the leaders behind the Mogok Doktor Kontrak failed to identify themselves. Perhaps it was the fear that they might be identified, reprimanded, subjected to disciplinary actions and even sacked from the service. It is not about whether the group was identified or not, but it is more about the issues they were bringing to the attention of the government. Representing a few thousand contract doctors, they wanted not so much to call for strike action as to highlight to the government the sad and miserable plight of the country’s unenviable contract doctors.
Whether the group sought official representation or not is not important, but rather the grievances of the contract doctors are.
The three-day protest in early April 2023 did not take place. It was not a surprise because there was no real intention on the part of the Mogok Doktor Kontrak to organise the nation-wide strike in the first place.Moreover, they were fully aware of the public’s opinion on the withdrawal of services from public hospitals. There was no intention in the first place to inconvenience the public.
The very fact that the unity government took notice of the grievances of contract doctors can be considered a victory for the contract doctors.Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has been frank about the grievances of the contract doctors, saying that the government lacks the financial ability to absorb all the contract doctors into the permanent scheme. Nonetheless, he said that the first batch of about a few thousand contract doctors could be absorbed as soon as possible. At least, unlike the earlier governments, the present one under the leadership of Anwar was frank about the matter. It is just a matter of the financial capacity of the government to resolve the matter. An honest and frank approach something displayed by Anwar is the best way forward in ultimately resolving the longstanding grievances of the contract doctors. Anwar being Anwar is sensitive to the concerns and grievances of the contract doctors.
They provide an excellent public service, but they want to be appreciated in terms of permanence, better wages and perks. Questioning those behind the Mogok Doktor Kontrak about their real intentions and the reasons for their anonymity and others are might not do justice to the plight of contract doctors.It is not really about those behind the strike initiative, but the sad and sorry state of contract doctors in the country. — April 6, 2023
Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy is the state assemblyperson for Perai. He is also deputy chief minister II of Penang.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Main photo credit: Utusan