CAIRO: Doctors continued their seven-day sit-in yesterday at the Doctors’ Syndicate, to protest the unilateral decision by syndicate head Dr Hamdy El-Sayyed to postpone strike action against low wages.
Organized by lobby group Doctors Without Rights, the sit-in began Saturday March 15, marking the date the daily two-hour strike was scheduled to begin.
Some 20 doctors took part in two-hour protests both Saturday and Sunday on the steps of the syndicate, holding up placards reading “reform of the health system begins with a decent wage for doctors and “strikes are legal when doctors are starving.
On Feb. 1, a meeting of the syndicate’s general assembly, attended by over 3,000 doctors, voted overwhelmingly for strike action.
El-Sayyed subsequently participated in two protests outside the People’s Assembly during which he voiced support for strike action and rejected government offers of increased bonuses and incentive payments.
This position changed however after Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif stated during a radio interview that strikes by doctors are illegal, saying, “Many people are perhaps unaware of the fact that public sector employees – in particular doctors – are prohibited from striking. Those who wish to express themselves have many alternative methods to stopping work.
Members of Doctors Without Rights strongly criticized the decision to postpone the strike which was taken after a meeting with regional syndicate branches at the beginning of last week.
They say that only the general assembly can overturn its own decisions.
During a press conference given Saturday at the syndicate’s headquarters El-Sayyed told reporters that the general assembly’s decision to strike was rendered invalid by its illegality under the law.
“The general assembly did not at that time know that the strike was illegal; if it had known it would not have agreed to the strike, El-Sayyed said. “A general assembly decision can be overturned by its illegality under the law, which is why we did not need another general assembly decision to overturn the decision to strike.
El-Sayyed also said that the syndicate would not obstruct the sit-in provided that those taking part in it abide by two conditions.
“We will welcome those participating in the sit-in on two conditions: firstly, that they don’t interfere with the annual Doctors’ Day celebrations on Tuesday, and secondly that they recognize that this sit-in is not endorsed by the syndicate, he explained.
El-Sayyed, who has been heading the syndicate ever since elections were frozen in the 1990s, says that the syndicate will continue to use all “legitimate means to press for a minimum wage.
“We use legal methods to fight our cause, negotiations and winning public opinion. We won’t do anything to undermine the dignity of our profession, he told reporters.
El-Sayyed also said that Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif has promised to meet syndicate officials to discuss their grievances.
During a February interview with Daily News Egypt El-Sayyed was dismissive of government pledges to improve doctors’ salaries, saying, “I know that Dr El-Gabaly sympathizes with us but this is not the first time that the government says it will meet our demands. While some of their promises have been implemented with regard to expenses related to work in remote areas and overtime, nothing fundamental has changed.
El-Sayyed told reporters during the press conference that doctors participating in the sit-in are not representative of the profession as a whole, asking, “Is it right that the small number of people standing outside should impose their will on 170,000 doctors?
“Should I send my doctors to prison? As head of the syndicate I can’t accept this, he added.
On Saturday morning doctors in three hospitals in the Gharbeya governorate took part in protests outside hospitals.
Doctor Adel Fahim told Daily News Egypt that 50 doctors staged a protest outside Mahalla hospital, 150 outside Menshawy hospital and 50 outside Zefta hospital from 9 am to 11 am, the time at which the strike was meant to be held.
Journalist and blogger Karim Beheiry claims on his blog egyworkers.blogspot.com that he was arrested by security officers while covering the strike outside Mahalla hospital and detained for five hours.
On Sunday the syndicate introduced a new policy of denying entry into the building to everyone except doctors.
Doctor Hassan Aboul Fotouh, who took part in the sit-in on Saturday, told Daily News Egypt that the syndicate has let doctors down.
“We’re disappointed that the Doctors’ Syndicate postponed the strike without convening a general assembly, he said. “If doctors stood together they’d get the basic wage in 24 hours. We reject increased salaries through bonuses and incentives because they’re unreliable. If there’s a problem between me and my manager, the manager won’t give it to me. We’re demanding a basic salary [of LE 1,000] which the manager can’t touch, he continued.
The sit-in will continue until Saturday, when the next general assembly is scheduled to be held.