KUALA LUMPUR, March 3 – Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii has expressed support for increasing government doctors’ weekend on-call allowances by 178 per cent from RM9 to RM25 per hour.
The government backbencher noted that the last review for on-call claims was about a decade ago and as such, may not be applicable to the current situation due to doctors’ present workload and risks.
“I personally feel this is a low-lying fruit and I myself am playing my role to try to lobby or try to influence the Ministry of Health (MOH). Again, it’s not for them; it’s the JPA (Public Service Department) because public servants have grade scales and on-call scales which have to be changed,” Dr Yii told CodeBlue in an exclusive interview Tuesday.
“I think MOH is on the same page in terms of raising, but we are now engaging JPA and of course the Ministry of Finance in order to address this.”
At Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa’s town hall with doctors in the public health service last February 22, the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) proposed a 178 per cent increase in doctors’ weekend on-call claims to RM25 per hour from the current RM9 hourly rate that is lower than the RM10 hourly pay for retail staff and baristas, or RM20 per hour for house cleaners.
The RM9 hourly rate is based on payment of RM220 for a 24-hour on-call on a weekend, which doctors say often goes beyond that, compared to SG$480 in Singapore (RM60 plus per hour). Without currency conversion, Singapore’s rate is 118 per cent higher than Malaysia; with conversion, the rate in the neighbouring country is 609 per cent higher.
Dr Yii did not specify the rate of increase for doctors’ on-call allowances that MOH is looking at, but said: “I think we need to give a reasonable adjustment to the on-call rate.”
“RM25, I think, is a reasonable demand. But I think eventually, in most negotiations, we ask an amount, then we try to find a middle ground. I’m not saying a middle point, but at least an understanding or something that we can accept.”
When CodeBlue quipped that the doctors should have asked for the Singapore rates then, Dr Yii joked: “Then they’ll never get it.”
The DAP lawmaker also called for a salary review for doctors in the public health service, which he said was under JPA’s jurisdiction.
Dr Yii said he had attended a recent meeting between Dr Zaliha and the JPA when this issue was brought up, besides the issue of doctors’ on-call rates.
“All kinds of explanations were given by JPA – how the pay scheme of doctors is actually, they claim, to be the best within the public service pay scheme as a whole. But my argument has always been – we cannot compare. It’s not a fair comparison, it’s not an apple-to-apple comparison.
“What we need to compare is the marketplace because a doctor does not quit the public service to become a teacher or to join another public service department, but they quit to join the private sector.
“So we have to be pragmatic. We’ll never pay as high as the private sector, but it has to be competitive to ensure that we retain the best minds; we retain the best doctors in the public sector, where the majority of Malaysians seek health care.”
In statistics disclosed by Dr Zaliha in Parliament recently, the number of contract medical officers who quit MOH last year (1,354 people) exceeded resignations in the previous two years of 2020 and 2021 combined (1,279 people).