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Why should doctors strike? Delhi doctors are aggrieved lot indeed!!

Why should doctors strike? Delhi doctors are aggrieved lot indeed!!

The Trade Union Act 1926 provided limited right to strike by legalizing certain activities of a registered trade union in furtherance of a trade dispute. But right to protest is not a fundamental right but a legal right. No hospital can afford to have disruption in its work, where question of patient’s life is involved. In March 2012, nurses employed in various major private hospitals in south including Apollo, Fortis and Madras Medical Mission Hospital resorted to strike for 7 days demanding hike in their basic salary besides other benefits. Generally the causes of a strike are: Salary enhancement, increment and incentive problem, wrongful dismissal of workers, Leave with wages, bonus, profit sharing, provident Funding & gratuity or disputes connected with minimum wages. In case of ongoing strike by resident doctors in Dehi none of the common causes was underlying. Here the main cause is threat to the lives of the doctors, who are underpaid and over-worked and who find working conditions as poor and deficient to render services to the critical patients.

When the resident doctors went on strike, including the last one in Feb 2015, all their demands were declared to have been accepted by the Government .Nothing has been done. Despite the so called acceptance of demands, the doctors are repeatedly the victims of violence by attendants of the patients. Doctors demand to restrict one attendant with one patient has not been met. For doctors there is no security, safety or privacy let alone any amenities. Not even clean and safe water or rest rooms are available. Duty rooms exist on the paper with plenty of stink and no comfort. Even protective masks, gloves and gowns are a luxury and in the absence of these items doctors are exposed to deadly infections. The working hours generally extend well beyond 100 hours per week. Doctors are directed to prescribe generic drugs, which are not available in shops in the hospitals and if the doctors prescribe branded medicines they are accused of corruption. One of the demands is to allow one patient on one bed, but where are the beds? If due care is denied due to several patients on one bed or floor beds the doctors are blamed and attacked. As the doctors are busy in saving the lives in the operation theatre or labour room and if something goes wrong to a patient in the entrance lobby or waiting area, the doctor is liable to assaults as well as legal proceedings. Thus doctors bear the brunt of system failure. If they point out the defects or agitate to get good conditions to serve the patients they are threatened with jail under ESMA and or punitive action of losing their license by Medical councils.

No doubt strikes are bad, but what alternative is left with doctors, who work in conditions reminiscent of bonded labor. In an earlier strike Delhi Government had banned strikes in all government hospital saying that they were against the public interest. Divisional bench headed by Hon Chief Justice M K Sharma said that the strikes by the doctors both in central and state government were illegal. In view of above, it was decided that a copy of the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India be forwarded to all the State Medical Councils with the request to take the cognizance into the matter related to strike by doctors, in case any such incidence is brought to their notice and take necessary action against the doctors concerned in accordance with the order of Hon’ble Supreme Court.”

What is ESMA?

The Essential Services Maintenance Act, 1981 provides for the maintenance of certain essential services and normal life of the community and extends to the whole of India. Section 2 of the Act gives the details of services included in essential services, some of which are postal, telegraph or telephone, railway or any transport service aerodromes, major port, customs armed forces of the union, public conservancy, sanitation or water supply, hospitals or dispensaries and banking to cite a few.

The Act defines strike as the cessation of work by a body of persons while employed in any essential service acting in combination or concerted refusal or a refusal under a common understanding of any number of persons who are or have been so employed to continue to work or to accept work assigned, and includes :-

Refusal to work overtime where such work is necessary for the maintenance of any essential service;

Any other conduct which is likely to result in, or results in, cessation or substantial retardation of work in any essential service;

Power to prohibit strikes in certain employments: If the Central Government or appropriate authority is satisfied that in the public interest it is necessary or expedient to do so, it may, by general or special order, prohibit strikes in any essential service specified in the Order. It can also prohibit Lockout and layoff if considered necessary.

An order made under sub-section (1) of the Act shall be in force for six months only which can be further extended another period not exceeding six months, if it is satisfied that in the public interest it is necessary or expedient to do so.

Upon the issue of an Order

No person employed in any essential service to which the order relates shall go or remain on strike;

Any strike declared or commenced whether before or after the issue of the order by the persons employed in any such service shall be illegal.

Can ESMA take care of the deficiency in services due to perpetual neglect of the healthcare system by successive governments? Can the political parties discover vote bank in this neglected arena as well.

 

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