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All government doctors went on a lightning strike island wide yesterday, in protest against Health Minister A.H.M. Fowzie's stand regarding the appointment of post-interns.
The Government Medical Officers' Association (GMOA) called out its 5,000 members throughout the island on a sick leave campaign crippling all state hospitals.
The problem erupted after more than 450 post-interns who completed their internships on April 26 were required to vacate quarters immediately, on instructions of the Director of Health Services.
The GMOA claims that interns are government employees with letters of appointment and thus could be members of the GMOA. But the Health Ministry says interns are not government employees and it has accused the GMOA of provoking the interns to achieve its own ends.
The Health Ministry also claims it is not obliged to appoint all interns as government doctors, but the GMOA disagrees.
Minister Fowzie told 'The Sunday Times' they were helping the medical students by giving them one year's training called internship, but the government was not obliged to give them permanent appointments.
Mr. Fowzie said in the past there was an acute shortage of doctors and the Health Department absorbed all as soon as their internship was over. But now he said the situation was different and the Ministry would take in those who complete their internship as and when vacancies arose.
This procedure has led to further problems, with the GMOA insisting that appointments should be made in accordance with the merit list that has been agreed upon. The GMOA alleges that 10 of the recent appointments were made from outside the merit list.
According to the merit list, students qualified from state medical colleges come first for appointments, then those who have got scholarships from the Ministry of Higher Education, followed by students from the North Colombo Medical College and students qualified from other countries by other means.
Mr. Fowzie is accused by the GMOA of promoting 10 doctors qualified from other countries by other means, to the second category.
Mr. Fowzie explaining this said these 10 doctors had gone on government scholarships to foreign countries but not through the Ministry of Higher Education. He said this could be considered equivalent to the Ministry of Higher Education scholarships.
Yesterday evening a GMOA spokesman said the doctors would launch another one-day strike on Tuesday and hold an emergency meeting later to discuss further action on these issues.
In a counter-statement yesterday the Health Minister told the interns not to be misled by the GMOA and said interns had been asked to assemble at the Tower Hall on May 9 for an orientation and award of appointment letters.
By Shelani de Silva and Chandimal Mendis
Some of the leaders of the July 1980 strike are today Ministers or top officials in the government. But the plight of the ordinary strikers is the same as we mark May Day 1996. They still carry on their protest campaigns and get beaten by the police. They still run behind the officials to hand over the petitions and maintain their families amidst financial difficulties.
Mrs. M.V. Madurawela, wife of a July striker who died in 1989 said they had five children when her husband was put out of his working place. She was among the protesters who were dispersed by the police recently near Temple Trees. When the police attacked the protesters this angry woman attacked a policeman who fled for his life. "I don't know how I got the strength to do so, but enough is enough. We have suffered for almost two decades and we have nothing to lose except our lives and we are prepared to sacrifice even that to end this trauma", she said.
She said the July strike still haunt their children and one of her daughters was deprived of a job opportunity as a result. "We thought the fact that the father was a July striker would be an advantage at least under this government as most of the leaders are in power. But still we are out in the park still being taken for a ride by this government as well! So what is now" she asked expressing outrage at what was happening today.
A CTB worker W.M.P. Bandara who had served the Ja-Ela depot for 13 years before being booted out in 1980 angrily showed a letter sent by LSSP MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara which he had received a few days ago. "I am surprised that they remembered us after so many years", he said. He also said that some of the members of the Communist Party had come to his house at midnight in 1980 and asked him to organise the strike. "They are in power now and nothing has been done about us. Our youth is gone and we have nothing to celebrate or lose. That is why we decided to fight till reasonable relief is given to us", he added.
A large number of the July strikers had been in their youth, some newly married and some with infants. Hunger was not the only problem they faced when the workers were put out of their jobs. Also they lost recognition among their families, friends and relatives. The smooth routine of day to day life was shattered. Parents had to change their residence and move to rural areas where cost of living was not high as in the city. And the children who were lucky enough to still continue schooling had to change their friends and schools. Most of all some children got the shock of their lives when they came back from school and found out that their father had committed suicide.
A Veyangoda Textile Mill worker, A.M.C. Silva told The Sunday Times what they ask from the government is not the moon but a fair solution. "After all we are not aliens. Give us our jobs back and that is all what we ask for", he said.
P. Amaradivakara secretary of the July strikers joint organization told The Sunday Times the workers had a very few demands that they had all the right to ask for. "They either want their jobs back or a reasonable compensation", he said. He said that out of 200 families where the head of the family had died, 50 families got a compensation of Rs. 100,000 each during the Premadasa regime. "We ask the government to extend that relief to all the other families who face a similar situation."
When K.D. Siripala who was employed at the Colombo Commercial Company took to the streets in July 1980 to agitate against the injustices of the UNP, he never imagined he would get such a raw deal not only from his enemies but also from his so called friends.
Siripala has received only part of the compensation promised by the PA government but still hopes that justice would be done.
"The people who promised us our legitimate dues that day are ministers today, and still we are not given justice. We did all this for them and this is how they treat us", Siripala lamented.
"I failed in my responsibilities as a father. My four children who were still schooling had to give up their studies. The only asset I had was a plot of land, which ultimately had to be sold to keep the home fires burning, it was a hand to mouth existence. But still I carried on hoping that when the SLFP came to office we would get justice. But sadly after so many years the future seems bleak. We are not asking for something which does not belong to us. If they promised us, and if they are a responsible government as said then by all means they should keep their word," said Siripala, who is also the secretary of the SLFP branch at Gothami Road.
D.M.G. Samathapala a carpenter at the Building Materials Corporation is yet another victim to whom the government is in debt.
"I earned a daily wage, but we got all the benefits including medical and annual leave. Still we protested against the injustices of the UNP for the sake of our country. But in the end we are left with virtually nothing. I was only paid 28,000 rupees for all the years of my services, and this too was paid in instalments," he said.
Today 57-year-old Samathapala a father of three children has been forced to live in a shanty built on the pavement. "Since I was a carpenter I managed to find jobs and earn something, but with age I find it difficult to do the work as I used to do."
"We are not complaining regarding what we did, we did it with a purpose in mind. We were promised justice. My argument is that the government should treat each and every striker in the same manner. It was together that we got on to the streets and the compensation too should be given to each and everyone in the right way," he said.
The worst affected were those in the private sector who have not received anything up to date. P.K. Saranapala who was working at Brooke Bonds was earning a satisfactory sum, but he too along with hundreds of workers got on to the streets to seek justice.
For his 24 years of service he has not received anything. "I was earning a good salary but I left everything. We sacrificed so much but got nothing. The government made several promises and we too thought it would keep its word, but now we know the truth," he said.
"It may be politics for them, but for us it is a matter of life and death," lamented Saranapala. The hardships he and his family had to undergo since the strike are many. "During that year my eldest child was getting ready for his Advanced Level Exam, my second had just completed her O/Levels and the third had also completed her Fifth year scholarship exam. Unfortunately all three had to abandon their studies and seek employment. I had to give up my home in Colombo. Our lifestyles changed completely. I had to do jobs that I never dreamt I would do. I worked as a bookie, a barman and even did odd jobs. If I had stuck on to my job I would have had 40 years of service and would have been earning at least rupees ten thousand per month, and would have had upto Rs 400,000 in my provident fund," he said.
We are in the dawn of a new century. Will the present government let this problem step on to the year 2000 as well or will they solve this problem before May 1. There are over 7000 July strikers waiting for the authorities to make a move that favours them. As they say, they have nothing to lose but fight till the end. They have organised a series of protest and campaigns. Specially on May Day they will be meeting at the Public Library auditorium to commemorate a black May Day. "How can the government celebrate a May Day when there are more than 7000 workers deprived of their jobs for over 16 years?" they asked.Continue to the News/Comment page 2 -
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