Time to wield the big stick | Daily News

Time to wield the big stick

After a somewhat decent lull, the GMOA has once again jumped back on it's hobby horse and is threatening strike action if the government fails to resolve the SAITM issue to its satisfaction. This latest beating of war drums, by the government doctors, comes on the eve of the local government elections, even after a fervent appeal from Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya to all trade unions to put on hold any agitation campaign, at least till February 15, by which time the dust may have settled on the local government elections.

As this is being written the doctors were meeting to decide if their strike, slated to begin on Wednesday, should be continued indefinitely, in which event the entire health sector, countrywide, would be thrown into a state of paralysis.

The doctors have accused the government of not honouring it's pledge to abolish SAITM, before December 31, last year, and, to provide a solution acceptable to all parties, failing to do justice to the medical students of SAITM, failure to effect changes to the additional allowance of doctors, the filling of posts of director, in a number of government hospitals based on political considerations. GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge said they had already communicated their decision, informing of the proposed strike action, to the President, and, the Director General of Health Services, but had so far failed to receive a response. Hence their decision to resort to strike action will remain unchanged.

This sudden decision on the part of the GMOA, to break from its lengthy period of inaction, could not have been accidental. It has obviously been biding it's time until the local government election campaign goes into full throttle. On another flank, the workers of the National Water Supply and Drainage Board, too, are poised to strike, any time soon, that will result in breakdown in the supply, and, repairs and maintenance work going unattended, affecting the consumers.

It appears that the doctors, and, their partners in crime, in other sectors, are planning to place the government under siege, during this crucial time, with a view to extracting the maximum concessions, or, better still, give their political masters an advantage, at the election, by way of a public backlash against the government, for failure to provide essential services.

An indefinite strike is bound to continue into election day. Even if it does not, it would still have an impact, due to the episode still being fresh in the minds of the public. It is not known what other trade unions are planning to go on strike as D’ day draws near, and, if, the cumulative effect is designed to cast the government in poor light, on the eve of the poll.

On earlier instances, during such disruptive trade union action, that threw the country into chaos, such as during the petroleum strike, we urged the government to have contingency plans put in place to meet the crisis, head on. We also hailed the proposal made at Cabinet to set up a Special Task Force, headed by Field Marshal Minister Sarath Fonseka to get things moving in times of paralysis. We are yet to read, or, hear if such a machinery exists.

The biggest advantage from the doctors’ strike, no doubt, will accrue to the Joint Opposition. There is no better image to move the public than the sight of patients lying in different postures of agony, or, discomfort in empty public hospital premises, ignored and uncared for. The government can be certain that the private TV channels backing the Rajapaksas, would go that extra mile to bring such images to the homes of the general public. Most will carry this image with them, going to the polling booths.

Is the government going to sit by and permit these recurrent bouts of strikes continue without check? Hasn’t it come to the realization that the GMOA is bent on backing the political project to bring the Rajapaksas back to power? Does not the timing of the strike action to coincide with an election, tell a tale?

True, the Yahapalanaya government takes pride in unshackling the media, ushering in freedoms, and, permitting free speech and association. It has also, so far, acted with great restraint in the face of great provocation. Trade Unions are allowed plenty of leeway to engage in street protests, and, other forms of agitation. There are no incidents such as that which occurred at Rathupaswela, Katunayake and Negombo.

However, it appears that things are being taken for granted. Court orders banning protests and demonstrations that inconvenience the public are openly defied. Court premises are invaded and judges bad mouthed in the open. Politicians taken to court on charges of bribery and corruption make their exit, brandishing their manacled hands in gestures of heroism.

It is time that the government takes a firm decision to stem the rot. Today it will be the doctors. Tomorrow it will be the CEB or postal workers. There is no knowing where it is all going to end up. It is obvious that slush funds are at work, financing these strikes. It is not difficult to guess the source. 


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