Duty dereliction

The use of strike as a bargaining chip has taken a new turn after the staff from even the essential service sector such as hospitals started using that tool in an effort to bring establishments they work for to knees. As though they were taking a cue from the political parties who routinely organise strikes to pressurise the political establishment of the day, anaesthetists in Bir Hospital have called a strike and suspended work. Since the announcement of a protest calling for 200 per cent salary hike last Sunday, five of the seven anaesthetists have not reported for duty. That has severely affected the patients, including those who come from remote corners of the country. All surgical wards except the emergency ward have remained closed, forcing about 10 people each day to return home without availing the services. It only requires commonsense to realise the consequences of the staffs’ inaction. Medical complications cannot wait for the strike to end, nor the staffs’ salary to increase. Who will be responsible if someone dies because there is no anaesthetist to administer the dose?

All the same, it is to be acknowledged by the hospital administration that people have grievances. That said, it is for the management in all essential service sectors to diffuse differences over emoluments and other work benefits before they spiral out of control. By the same token, the staff cannot hold the hospital to ransom just because they think that they have a way to do so. Whatever the reason behind the inaction for the anaesthetists, it is tantamount to dereliction of duty. Food and water supplies, hospitals, power and fuel supply are among those kinds of services that directly affect the general public. The decision to work in such a sector, particularly hospitals, has to be made by the employees long before the day they accept their appointment. The responsibility of employees in this category simply cannot abstain because of differences over their salaries.

Keeping in view the importance of such sectors, the government needs to enact a law debarring employees in hospitals and other vital service areas from organising strikes. But with it must come the willingness in those sectors to address the legitimate concerns of the employees. A corrective piece of legislation, therefore, is not for an establishment to use it as a whip against the “essential” employees. Stubborn attitude sets a bad precedent. Why should every single difference wait for, say, a strike jeopardising someone’s health or even life? To ignore other’s medical priorities lies outside the framework of reason. Hospitals are only one of many such important sectors. Commonsense must prevail.