Doctors on partial strike announced they will start gathering resignations at a press conference held in the Doctors’ Syndicate on Saturday.
“Today is a very significant day,” said Mona Mina from Doctors Without Rights, “the doctors went to Al-Salam Specialist Hospital at 8:30 in the morning to find the administration had charged the patients with tickets to be treated and told them ‘here are the striking doctors, see if they will treat you or not,’” Mina said. Doctors who choose to take part in the partial strike have in several cases faced intransigence. Mina named a doctor today who’d been referred to investigations for incitement to strike.
“We are not refusing to treat anyone, what bothers the Ministry of Health is that we are offering the services to patients for free,” she said. As of last week, the doctors started a “free treatment strike” phase of their strike, which they have been holding since 1 October. The doctors treated patients for free, instead of them having to be charged for the treatment.
“They care about the treasury not the patient, and we don’t want to the treasury to be empty, we just want to hold the Ministry of Health accountable…The Ministry of Health has to fund the health service, it can’t be funded by the patient,” Mina said. She added they are offering the patients free treatment, as treatment should be in state-run hospitals. Amr Al-Shura, from Doctors Without Rights said while people are accusing the doctors’ resignations to be illegal, it is the charging of patients for treatment for accidents which is really illegal.
The resignations, which the doctors on strike announced over a week ago, are the next escalatory step of the strike. They will only be handed in en masse when a minimum number of resignations is reached, which could be 15,000 or 20,000. Of Egypt’s 180,000 doctors, only 60,000 work in Egypt, with 60,000 working in Saudi Arabia and another 60,000 in other countries, according to Mina. The form for the resignations was handed out during a conference last week to all the doctors present and they filled them in, including Mina.
“The strike has been going on for a long time…. we want specific measures to be taken to solve the problem. Even measures which do not affect the state budget, such as implementing harsher penalties on people who attack hospitals, have not been taken, it won’t cost a thing,” Mina said. She said there has to be a response and if none is made; the doctors will have no other option but to hand in the resignations.
“Some people are saying the resignations were not decided upon by the general assembly. Yes, the resignations are not one of the decisions taken by the general assembly, but a resignation is a decision made on an individual basis. When 15,000 or 20,000 doctor take this decision from their own free and independent will, it sends the message that they can’t stand working any longer.
Our message is that we can’t stand the conditions in your (the Ministry of Health) hospitals anymore,” Mina added. She said the doctors feel humiliated. They can’t offer services to patients in the current hospital conditions of filth, chaos, and lack of security. Mina said it is the Ministry of Health and its lack of response to the strike which has driven doctors to this decision.
Ehab Al-Taher, board member of the Doctor’s Syndicate said according to the Ministry of Finance, the state budget for the Ministry of Health is approximately EGP 27 billion. From this EGP 27 billion, EGP 13 billion is spent on the wages and bonuses of the workers. “If these EGP 13 billion were distributed fairly, the salary of a cleaning worker would be EGP 1,200, where is this money going? We need to know if there is waste of public funds,” he said. Al-Taher wants a maximum wage to be determined so the minimum wage in the health sector can be no less than EGP 1,200.
Human rights lawyer, Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, who is part of the legal committee created to support the strike, described the doctors’ strike as “legal and sophisticated.” He said the strike is both consistent with international treaties to which Egypt is signatory, and it meets the requirements for Egypt’s labour laws. He stressed the strike is not a full strike and the decision was taken to protect the rights of the patients through a partial strike. Abdel-Aziz added since the general assembly convened in September, doctors have been facing a campaign of distortion created to terrorise the doctors.
Abdel-Aziz said the latest of these distortion campaigns has been related to group resignations and the legality of the decision. He said that the basis of the campaign is Article 124 of the Penal Code, which criminalises the strike. He added the constitutionality of this article has been disputed in many courts and the article itself is not consistent with the labour law of 2003.
He said once resignations were handed in, a serious investigation would have to be opened, attended by members of the committee governing the strike. Abdel-Aziz said that the reasons for the strike have to be investigated one by one. The resignations have to be accepted altogether or rejected completely, “what protects us is our unity,” said Al-Taher.
The doctors have been on partial strike since 1 October after the decision to strike was taken by the general assembly of the Doctors’ Syndicate on 21 September. The doctors have three demands: the enforcment of more strict security laws and harsher punishments for people who attack hospitals, an increase in the state health budget to 15 per cent of the total budget and the raising of the doctors’ salaries to EGP 3,000. Ultimately, the doctors want to be able to offer patients better health services. The strike includes state-run hospitals but not police, military, or university hospitals.