CAIRO: During a heated emergency general assembly meeting on Friday, the Doctors’ Syndicate voted to hold protests outside hospitals for better pay on April 23.
The emergency general assembly was held to discuss what steps the syndicate should take as part of its campaign for a minimum wage for doctors.
At the last emergency general assembly held Feb. 1, doctors voted overwhelmingly to launch a two-hour strike in hospitals on March 15.
Syndicate head Dr Hamdy El-Sayyed and other syndicate representatives took part in two protests outside the People’s Assembly in February during which El-Sayyed expressed support for the strike.
This public position changed, however, after Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif stated during a radio interview that strikes in hospitals are illegal, a view which has been criticized as unfounded by lawyers.
After a meeting with regional Doctors’ Syndicates on March 11, El-Sayyed announced that the strike had been “postponed pending a study of its legality, prompting members of the Doctors Without Rights lobby group to launch a week-long sit-in in the syndicate in protest at the decision.
Doctors Without Rights say that in overturning the decision to strike without holding a vote by the syndicate’s general assembly, El-Sayyed acted illegally.
El-Sayyed again defended the decision to postpone the strike during today’s meeting.
“If we had gone ahead with an illegal strike our main focus would have been campaigning to get arrested doctors out of police stations and defending them in court – which would have distracted attention from our main cause, our demand for a minimum wage, he said.
The syndicate head told the general assembly that negotiations were still ongoing with the government, pointing to Minister of Health Dr Hatem El-Gabaly’s announcement of a two-stage increase in health spending between 2008 and 2010.
He also said that the syndicate will discuss wage demands with Nazif in a meeting next Monday.
El-Sayyed insisted that wage increases must be enshrined in the law, rather than be in the form of ministerial decrees.
“Money allotted to doctors through ministerial decrees does not always reach doctors because of bureaucratic obstacles and irregularities, El-Sayyed explained. “Take the 2005 decree concerning allowances for further education, for example – only about 10 percent of doctors actually receive the benefits they are entitled to through this decree.
El-Sayyed also criticized statements carried in the daily El-Masry El-Youm which had appeared on the Doctors Without Rights website calling for syndicate “traitors to be brought to account.
Doctors Without Rights has since issued an apology for the statements, saying that they are not endorsed by Doctors Without Rights and are the individual views of certain doctors.
During Friday’s general assembly doctors were given the platform to address the meeting.
Some 15 of them gave their opinion on strike action, three recommending that alternative methods be used to realize their demand for a minimum wage while the rest strongly supported strike action.
One doctor from Gharbeyya pointed out that doctors at three hospitals in the governorate held protests on March 15 without any repercussions, and said that “doctors from all political currents in Gharbeyya rallied around the call for a basic wage.
Dr Mona Mina, one of the leaders of the week-long sit-in questioned the basis of the syndicate’s decision to postpone the strike.
“Did we really expect that we could announce a strike and that the government would just leave us to get on with it? Of course we had to expect threats, she said.
Mina suggested that a nationwide two-hour protest be held in hospitals on April 6.
The proposal was received with enthusiasm by the majority of the general assembly who voted in favour when Mina asked them whether they supported her proposal.
The general assembly erupted into chaos when one speaker called for Health Minister El-Gabaly to be stripped of his membership of the syndicate.
Visibly angered, El-Sayyed stood up and attempted to leave the meeting in objection to the proposal, but was eventually persuaded to return to his seat.
At the end of the meeting doctors were asked to vote on what action they thought should be taken in a show of hands.
Noise and microphone problems made it extremely difficult to hear Syndicate Secretary-General Dr. Essam El-Erian who asked the general assembly whether they wanted to continue negotiations with the government or not and whether the syndicate should proceed with protest action.
Dr El-Erian asked the general assembly when protest action should be taken and a suggestion of April 6 was audible.
He eventually announced that an official protest would be held on April 23 but that regional syndicates could organize individual protests on whatever day they wished before closing the meeting.
Doctors who had participated in the protest were furious at the decision.
“The syndicate listened to our views, divided regional syndicates rather than unified protest action, decided to hold the protest a long time from now and completely disregarded strike action, Mina told reporters. “This decision is intended to make doctors lose enthusiasm for protests, she continued.
Dr Mohamed Morgan, a doctor who took part in the sit-in told Daily News Egypt that he thinks that the syndicate had already decided what it planned to do before the general assembly was held.
“This general assembly was a farce. Today’s decision was taken before the meeting was even held, Morgan said. “They refused our decision for a protest before April 23 because of the municipal elections [on April 8] – they want to allow security bodies to focus on the elections without having to police our protests, he continued.