By Poly Pantelides
STATE DOCTORS yesterday gave the health ministry a 15-day ultimatum to reconsider plans to reduce their overtime pay.
If the health ministry fails to respond, government doctors will go on a four-hour warning strike within a fortnight followed by a 48-hour strike, said Maro Kontou, head of the state doctors’ union PASYKI.
Maro Kontou asked the health ministry to “start and complete negotiations before Christmas” and revise decisions relating to changing the doctors’ shift system.
The government agreed with the troika of lenders to overhaul the health sector’s overtime wages and eventually pay healthcare employees a normal rate for working between 7am and 7pm. As a first step, doctors are no longer being paid overtime for working between 7am and 4.30pm. PASYKI had agreed to that step, which effectively suspended overtime pay between 3pm and 4.30pm, but later came out to say they had done so as a sign of “good will” on the understanding the measure would be temporary.
PASYKI warned against further cuts last week.
Kontou told the Cyprus News Agency there were unresolved questions over doctors working in regional health centres and outpatient clinics. Regional health centres are staffed by visiting doctors who see patients on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, and usually shut down in August while the doctors who normally staff them go on holiday.
According to Kontou, doctors working in rural areas could not be on duty every other day, because it would be “inhumane and surpass the number of working hours set by the EU for this sector”. She did not clarify what she meant, though on the face of it, the health ministry is well within EU guidelines which set maximum limits of 14 hours in any 24-hour period and 72-hours in any seven-day period, as long as total working time over seven days does not exceed 48 hours. The directive also allows exceptions for healthcare as well as collective agreements.
Kontou questioned why state doctors were expected to work past the working hours of other civil servants and that doctors in health centres already had to work between 7.30am and 3.30pm.
Some doctors have been paid the value of their whole annual wage in overtime over the course of a year, according to the auditor-general who has been issuing warnings for years in relation to overtime arrangements in the health sector.