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Our View: Hospitals paying the price of previous government’s cowardice

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Arguably the most foolish decision taken by the Anastasiades government when working out the practicalities of Gesy was to allow the employees of the state hospitals to preserve their public servant status. The original plan was for these workers to resign from the public service, take the pay-off they were entitled to and become contracted employees of Okypy, which would be running all the state hospitals as part of the national health scheme.

Predictably, the doctors and nurses of the hospitals were furious with the idea of giving up their public service privileges and threatened strikes. They did not need to make too much fuss for the Anastasiades government to back down and announce that all hospital workers, who wanted to remain public servants (as if there would be any who would surrender this status), when they joined Okypy could do so. The government, concerned only about keeping the unions on side, did not give a thought to the consequences of its weakness which are still evident.

The result of this decision is that the Okypy-run hospitals operate under the uneconomical, restrictive practices of the state hospitals – office working hours, overtime pay for afternoon and weekend work, high number of nurses per bed etc. As if this were not bad enough, Okypy has two classes of workers – those hired on contracts and public employees. The latter demand that they receive the pay scale increments and pay rises given to public employees even though they do not work for the public service.

Can Okypy give these hospital workers public service pay rises and the rest much lower rises as per their contracts? This would be grossly unfair, especially as the contract staff do the same jobs and probably more efficiently than their ‘public servant’ colleagues. Not surprisingly, unions are demanding that their members receive public service increments and pay rises. Okypy has rejected these demands and the unions have announced a strike on October 25, to push for public service pay rise. All employees would be participating in the strike, said the unions, indicating that contractual workers want the same rises as the public employees.

According to the Gesy legislation, each state hospital will have to be economically autonomous by June 2024, surviving without injections of state cash as is currently the case. Already there is talk that Okypy will not meet this deadline and that the government is considering extending it by amending the law. One of the main reasons for this is that hospitals operate under the public service regime which prevents them from being competitive, something that never seemed to have crossed the mind of the Anastasiades government when it was drawing up the Gesy plans.

The demand that all Okypy workers be placed on public service pay and conditions guarantees that public hospitals will never become economically autonomous.

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