We will go to courts with our grievances: Health workers

By Wasantha Ramanayake

Consequent to the Colombo District Court ordering the Joint Council of Professions Supplementary to Medicine(JCPSM)to halt its strike action, its General Secretary Saman Jayasekera said his union would go to courts with its grievances in the coming week.

“The court so far had only considered the grievances of the complainants and the strike action was temporarily put on hold due to the court order. That does not provide a solution to our grievances and no way forward was shown. However, since it is a court order we will abide by it but we will go to courts with our grievances,” he added.

The JCPSM that included five trade unions representing radiographers, medical laboratory technologists, occupational therapists and physiologists launched a strike action on March 13 putting forward several demands including an increase in the on-call allowance and the recruitment of more graduates.

“The root course of the trade union action is in the unequal treatment of the Government, especially with regard to allowances. Without addressing the core issues our problems could not be solved,” he said.
He said the JCPSM is concerned with the recent trend of courts restraining legitimate trade union action. “In the meantime we are having discussions with the other health- related professional bodies as to what alternative action could be taken,” he said.

The JCPSM called off its strike on Wednesday after Colombo District Judge Dhammika Ganepola issued an enjoining order on the previous day, restraining the JCPSM from resorting to any strike action until March 30. The court issued the order after hearing the submissions of counsel for two petitioners.The first petitioner B. Hemapala Perera of Welimilla, Bandaragama stated he had undergone a coronary bypass surgery and was receiving treatment for years at the Bandaragama Hospital, on a monthly basis.

The second petitioner D. P. Chandrasena of Kotelawalapura, Ratmalana said he had been admitted to the Kalubowila Hospital on March 9 and was discharged on the following day and advised to get himself re-admitted on March 24.

The petitioners cited 13 defendants including JCPSM President Harendra Kuruppu, its General Secretary Saman Jayasekera, its Treasurer Gayan Jayasekera, Dhammila Piyathilaka, Janaka Nishantha, Dharmakeethi Epa, Saman Senanayake, Ashoka Sanjeewa and the five trade unions affiliated to the JCPSM.

They pointed out that membership of the defendants are providing their services in hospitals throughout the country. The complainant petitioners have a right to receive the services provided by the respective hospitals in terms of the medical service policy implemented by the Government and the health sector public servants are bound to provide such rights without any interruption, they argued.

They argued that the islandwide strike declared by the defendants was not a trade dispute in terms of the Section 2 of the Trade Union Ordinance and that the purported action is wrongful and illegal.
“The defendants have alternatives to resolve their grievances and some of their complaints have already been resolved or sufficient steps have been taken to resolve them,” the petitioners further contended. They claimed that they have a course of action to sue the defendants and accordingly seek a court declaration that the strike was illegal.

They are also seeking a permanent injunction restraining the defendants from taking trade union action on their particular demands.Court orders restrain trade union activity Back in 2006 the Supreme Court issued an interim order preventing the 14 union of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority from engaging in any ‘go slow’-type trade union activity in a rights applications filed by the Joint Apparel Association Forum. The petitioners filed a fundamental rights application in the Supreme Court against the strike of the Colombo Port employees.

They stated that the action was illegal since ‘go slow’ was not a legitimate trade union action which hampered the day-to-day operations of the Colombo Port, incurring huge losses to the apparel exporters, the Government and the people as a whole and was in violation of their rights.
Another case filed in January 2007, in the Colombo District Court restrained 18 unions of Sri Lanka Telecom from striking.

The order restrained employees from continuing the strike within the company premises, and forcing any other employees to join in the strike.The trade unions had commenced the strike, demanding a 30 percent salary increment and an allowance of Rs.3,000.

It was only in October last year the Colombo District Court gave an enjoining order preventing the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) from launching a strike.A patient who was receiving clinical treatment for a respiratory illness filed the action on the basis that the strike was illegal and in contravention of medical norms and ethics.

The petitioner contended that the Government medical officers are legally bound to provide treatment to those who seek treatment from Government hospitals.

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