Following a six-hour work stoppage on Monday, state doctors union PASYKI announced that it would suspend further industrial action as a sign of goodwill but from Tuesday a cap would be placed on the number of patients they examine.
PASYKI had announced Monday’s stoppage after it emerged that the House finance committee planned to discuss DISY and DIKO’s proposal to extend their retirement age by three years, from 65 to 68, and that the proposal would then be tabled before parliament for a vote on Thursday. The strike went ahead even though the House finance committee said that MPs had postponed the scheduled discussion.
The stoppage did not affect emergency services, and as the strike had been announced ahead of time, other patients knew not to attend their appointments.
The union, after a meeting of its board, announced later on Monday they would suspend further industrial action, “as a sign of goodwill”, but that they were prepared to escalate measures unless the specific proposal was withdrawn.
“State doctors will seek a meeting with the competent institutions, political parties and the president to seek immediate solutions to the many issues plaguing the health sector, which have a direct reflection on providing quality health care to patients, as well as decent working conditions for health professionals,” the announcement said.
From Tuesday, state doctors will limit the numbers of patients they examine to up to 20 people a day, while GPs will see 30. The specific instruction came after repeated warnings to the ministry on the serious problems state hospitals face due to understaffing, PASYKI said.
On the retirement age issue, PASYKI head, Soteris Koumas, told state broadcaster CyBC that it was not the parliament’s job to propose legislation on retirement, as this is a task of the employers.
Earlier, the deputy head of the House finance committee DIKO MP Angelos Votsis, said that the committee would not discuss the specific issue in its Monday meeting, and that it would not be brought up in the near future but that it had not been withdrawn.
He also criticised doctors for going ahead with the work stoppage when was known ahead of time that DIKO was going to propose postponing the discussion.
DISY spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said that his party too accepted the postponement, but that there was no point in anyone going on strike in an attempt to prevent the parliament from doing its job.
Prodromou rejected Koumas’ claims that the proposal served the interests of a small number of high ranking state doctors as “cheap arguments”.
“This proposal concerns the necessity for the viability of the civil servants’ pension funds,” Prodromou told the Cyprus Mail.
He said that the issue was first raised in 2011, when there were significant concerns on the viability of the pension funds of civil servants as increasing life expectancy meant more money was being paid out.
“In the past, these funds were called to pay pensions for around eight years, but now that life expectancy is increasing, and people live well into their 70s and 80s they receive pensions for 18 years. Pension funds cannot pay someone for so many years,” Prodromou said. He added that retirement age had also been extended in other professions as well.
The specific proposal was agreed in 2014 by all parliamentary parties except AKEL, he added, although other parties apart from DISY and DIKO later withdrew their support.
He also said that the government had an obligation to our international lenders to monitor and gradually amend and extend the retirement age of civil servants.
Health Minister George Pamporidis, who visited Nicosia’s state hospitals to assess the situation, had urged state doctors to stop the strike measures and thanked the two parliamentary parties for postponing the discussion of the bill proposal.
But in a move obviously not unconnected with Monday’s stand-off, the Cyprus Medical Association issued a statement asking Pamporidis to either apologise or resign over recent remarks to the media.
Pamporidis has variously spoken of incidents of state doctors receiving ‘brown envelopes’, running private practices on the side, and pinned resistance to the implementation of a National Health Scheme on “a handful of bigwig doctors”.
“Since there is no willingness for courtesy, respect, and acknowledgement towards the medical world, it would be good to pass the torch of chief of the health sector to someone else, for ethical reasons,” the CMA said.
The association cited “repeated, unfounded, and offensive remarks” by Pamporidis.
“With such attitudes coming from the political chief of the health sector, it is understood that there is no room for constructive discussion, since basic prerequisites like honesty and mutual respect are flagrantly ignored,” it added.