CAIRO: The Doctors’ Syndicate held a protest Monday demanding pay improvements, amidst continuing disagreements between it and lobby group Doctors Without Rights (DWR) about the next step to take if the government fails to respond to their demands.
Around 40 doctors took part in the protest, the latest to be organized by the syndicate after pay increases promised by the government in 2008 in the form of a three-stage plan were not paid.
Daily News Egypt asked syndicate board member Essam El-Erian what the root of the problem was.
“The government promised us many times to solve our problems but they are delayed in their response, he said.
“Only the first stage was implemented – the other two stages are delayed. We are now arranging for a meeting with the prime minister when Hamdy El-Sayed [whose return from Paris has been delayed by the volcanic ash cloud] returns.
The syndicate is calling for three main pay improvements: a fixed monthly LE 300 hazard pay to all doctors, increase of basic salaries by 300 percent and increase of the diploma incentive payment and fellowship incentive payment by LE 100 and LE 200, respectively.
DWR is demanding in a statement handed out at the protest that pay increases be fixed and guaranteed rather than subject to evaluation and availability of funds. The syndicate held a protest outside the Ministry of Finance in 2009 to object to what it said was the ministry’s failure to dedicate funds to the three-stage scheme.
DWR has continually criticized the syndicate’s handling of the campaign for better pay. Sherif Shaban Mohamed, a doctor from Cairo, said that syndicate head Hamdy El-Sayed “treats doctors as if the syndicate doesn’t belong to them.
“When we criticize the government’s health policy he suggests that if we’re not happy we should go and look for different employment. The syndicate should do more. Why are other syndicates such as the Journalists’ Syndicate much more active and positive than ours? Mohamed asked.
El-Erian defended the role of the syndicate, saying that board members are doing their “best efforts in light of the freeze on syndicate elections.
He added that they have called several times for the election of a new board since “half of the board members have died or traveled so we are working at half our full efforts.
He added, “The government is hesitatant and confused because demands [for better pay] are not only being made by doctors.
Cairo’s Administrative Court recently issued a verdict obligating the government to set a minimum wage, with workers and labor activists calling for a protest if the government fails to do so by May 2, 2010.
Abdel-Fatah Rizq, a syndicate board member responsible for regional syndicate affairs, told Daily News Egypt that the syndicate will form part of a group of syndicates meeting tomorrow to discuss ways of bringing about the implementation of the court verdict.
Rizq added that the syndicate “supports any step which can improve the conditions of Egyptian doctors, but we know the resolution to our problems are free elections which brings a free People’s Assembly.
“All of Egypt’s problems lie in the absence of free elections; free presidential elections, free PA elections, free local council elections – there are no free elections in Egypt.
DWR spokeswoman Mona Mina meanwhile said that she “hoped the syndicate will implement the decision voted on by the general assembly last month to hold a one-hour protest in hospitals on May 3.
The decision was not included in the final list of general assembly decisions published on the syndicate’s website. DWR’s statement says that the general assembly’s approval of the decision “was recorded by the media and journalists.
El-Erian said that the syndicate “can’t take such a step without good support from the judiciary.
Rizq added that the law prohibits strikes in hospitals because “they may cause harm to the patient.
He added that when the general assembly voted in favor of a one-hour protest in hospitals in 2007 “it was unaware of the existence of such a law.
Mina rejected this.
“We’re talking about a protest, not a strike, and a strike at noon, when outpatient clinics aren’t busy at all. There will be a doctor in every clinic – this is symbolic protest action not a strike, Mina said.
“Any protest by doctors would affect only ‘cold cases,’ outpatient clinics and non-urgent surgery.
“Secondly and most importantly this is a decision taken by the general assembly. If the syndicate had a problem with it, it should have said so during the general assembly. It’s not the right of any board member to overturn any general assembly decision.