|Saturday, 27 December 2003|
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Health strikes and patient's rights
Strikes in the Health Sector have now become quite frequent that at any given moment one or more unions seem to be on strike. These strikes cause enormous hardships to the patients, especially those in the low-income brackets who form the bulk of Outdoor and Clinic patients. In this context, some of these strikes could be even termed as assaults on the poor.
One could discern a multitude of reasons such as bureaucratic bungling, professional jealousies, glaring anomalies in salaries and conditions of service that cause such strikes.
Last but not the least we could add another cause, viz., the existence of a large number of trade unions who are at loggerheads with one another. The situation becomes worse when rival political parties patronize some of these unions. It is also tragic that some unions become pawns in the hands of ruling politicos and sabotage trade union actions of rival unions.
We should recall here that this proliferation of trade unions was a sequel to so-called "liberal " legislation in the Sixties that encouraged party based trade unions to divide and sap the strength of the working people.
The state and the trade unions both have a duty to work out an arrangement in which health sector strikes could be minimized. In our opinion, legislation for the introduction of Arbitration Boards to settle labour disputes would be one such measure.
Yesterday we carried a news story that an 'Organization for the protection of Patients' have threatened to deploy volunteers to work in place of striking health sector employees. Such organizations have sprung up, during the time of the last government too. It is obvious that that such threats could be carried out only if they have state patronage.
This again poses several dangers. Most health sector employees, both skilled as well as non-skilled have been trained to care for the workers. Volunteers, however noble their intentions may be, are not trained. This would not eliminate the danger to patients but enhance it. There is also no guarantee that the authorities would not employ their political supporters, including some of their 'strong men' along with the volunteers provided by the Organization.
What is more dangerous and disturbing is the threat to the right to strike enjoyed by health sector employees. This is not a problem limited to the health sector. If the Right to Strike is constrained in one sector it will have a chain effect on all other sectors with the employers calling for the pound of flesh.
The right to strike is a right won by workers and employees through long years of struggle. It is not a gift of God or an act of charity by the employers. Now, it is a right acknowledged by the International Labour Organization.
In the face of globalization and the strengthening of capital, trade unions have only their collective bargaining strength to withstand the attacks on their rights and conditions of service.
Japan's new mission
Japan, increasingly active in world affairs, yesterday sent the first group of its military contingent to the Middle East for a humanitarian mission in Iraq.
News reports described the mission as Japan's "most dangerous deployment of military personnel since World War II". The airmen were headed for Qatar, where the main US airbase is located, and Kuwait, where Japanese planes will be based to transport medical supplies to Iraqi airports. The dispatch is part of Japan's plan to send nearly 1,000 personnel to engage in humanitarian and reconstruction work in Iraq.
Significantly, this is the first time after World War II that a Japanese military unit is being sent to a country where fighting is still raging. As Defence Agency Director-General Shigeru Ishiba has aptly explained, the activities of Japanese troops "have entered a new stage" with the mission to Iraq.
The international community is watching these developments closely, since Japan's post-war Constitution bans the use of force in settling international disputes. Critics argue that the military mission violates the Constitution, under which Japan has to call its armed forces "self-defence forces". Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has however defended sending troops to Iraq, saying they were not going to use force except in self-defence.
There has been suggestions that Japan should change the Constitution to reflect its emerging status as a major player on the world stage with considerable diplomatic clout. It has adopted a hands-on approach to conflict resolution in many countries including Sri Lanka, to which it has appointed a special envoy. Though mired in an economic recession for several years, Japan remains a major financial power that funds most major projects in the Third World.
Nevertheless, any talk of amending Japan's Constitution sends shivers down many a spine in its Asian neighbours, particularly Korea and China, which bore the brunt of Japanese military offensives in World War II.
Any real or perceived shift in Japan's military status quo will naturally lead to anxiety among the peoples of neighbouring States. The humanitarian mission to Iraq should cause no undue worry; But Japan must tread softly as it enters a new era.
Produced by Lake House