Planned Strike Excludes Contract Doctors At Covid-19 Hospitals

A group organising a July 26 strike for contract doctors says they have the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression and to assemble peaceably.

KUALA LUMPUR, July 1 — Contract medical doctors assigned to Covid-19 hospitals will not be mobilised during a planned July 26 protest to prevent disruption of care to coronavirus patients.

Dr Mustapha Kamal A Aziz, the spokesperson of an anonymous group organising the strike, said most medical officers at the country’s Covid-19 hospitals will remain at their work stations on the day of the strike, unless precise arrangements can be made.

“We understand that the pandemic is a national emergency. The goal of the strike is to get what we have demanded but at the same time, we do not want to jeopardise our patients’ health — that is the last thing we want to do,” Dr Mustapha Kamal said at an online media briefing today.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 6,988 new Covid-19 cases today, the highest since June 5, when 7,452 daily cases were recorded. The number of daily cases has been moving upwards since June 21 when 4,611 infections were reported.

Over the past 14 days between June 17 and June 30, Malaysia recorded 241.45 new cases per 100,000 population and 31.44 deaths per 1,000,000 population. 

The group, in a memorandum sent via email to Health Ministry officials yesterday, demanded permanent positions for all 23,077 government contract doctors that have been recruited to date and clear details on the criteria for permanent positions in the service.

In response, Health Minister Dr Adham Baba said a Cabinet paper — which included demands submitted to improve the existing contract scheme — is being prepared and will be presented in a Cabinet meeting that will be held soon, without specifying the date.

When asked if the group will consider moderating their demands for immediate permanent roles for all contract doctors currently in the system, Dr Mustapha Kamal said the group’s demands remain unchanged until the government moves to make an offer.

“I think it is best we leave that on the negotiation table. We will wait for the government to call us and we will discuss. Until then, this is our demand and we won’t move away from it,” he said.

Medical student group Malaysian Medics International (MMI) in a statement today called for MOH to implement an extended contract system for medical officers to provide job security as well as sufficient time to complete their postgraduate speciality training.

MMI executive co-chair Ong Siu Ching said an extended contract system presents greater opportunities for the development of the Malaysian health care workforce, compared to simply providing permanent positions to contract medical officers, partly due to the need to increase the number of competent specialists within the country.

Meanwhile, Dr Mustapha Kamal said contract doctors will not bow down to top-down pressure from the ministry, following the issuance of an MOH circular that warned government workers of termination risks should they publicly criticise government policy on social media.

He cited Article 10 of the federal constitution which highlights every citizen’s right to freedom of speech and expression, as well as to assemble peaceably and without arms. 

“Nobody is above the law, and the law is interpreted in the courtroom by the judge. So, whatever happens, let it be (settled) in the courtroom. For now, we will do what is best for the nation’s health care. That is our aim,” he said, adding that the group has the backing of a legal team.

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