Nurses’ strike continues without biggest union

By Chaminda Silva, Emanthi Marambe and Don Asoka Wijewardena

Ongoing strike by the nurses’ unions demanding that the nurses be provided with midwifery training continued for the third consecutive day yesterday paralysing the government hospitals and severely inconveniencing patients.

Three nurses trade unions namely Public Service United Nurses Union, Government Nursing Officers Association (GNOA), the All Ceylon Nurses Association commenced the strike last Thursday with the demand that the government provide midwifery training to the nurses.

President of the biggest nurses union, the Public Service United Nurses Union (PSUNU) Ven Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera however said yesterday that his union would call off the strike from today (05) and the nurses attached to the union would return to work.

Addressing a media conference held at the Abhayaramaya in Narahenpita Ven Ananda Thera said that Secretary to the Finance Ministry, Dr P. B. Jayasundera had given a written assurance to have an impartial probe into the issue.

However, the other two unions say the trade union action they commenced would continue.GNOA President Saman Rathnapriya said in a press release that they would continue their trade union action until their demands were met. Nurses at the Cancer Hospital in Maharagama, Castle Hospital for Women, De Soysa Maternity Hospital, Lady Ridgway Hospital for Children would continue to provide services despite the strike action on humanitarian grounds, Rathnapriya said in the release.

Minister of Health Maithripala Sirisena has urged both sides to resolve their differences promptly to find a common ground in the best interests of the country and the public as the current crisis could jeopardize the country’ entire health services.

Minister Sirisena told The Island that though a meeting with the Government Medical Officers’ Association, Nursing Director, GNOA and the PSUNU had been convened on April 2 at the Ministry, the PSUNU did not attend the meeting. In most hospitals the doctors with the assistance of the minor staff had been able to treat both clinic and inpatients.

The nursing profession had not been ignored by the government. The uniform allowance was increased from Rs. 9000 to Rs. 14,500, nursing tutors uniform allowance was also raised from Rs. 8000 to Rs. 10, 500, the overtime payment was revised to Rs. 200 per hour and even the communication allowance was increased up to Rs. 2000. The strike action launched by the PSUNU in the face of all such benefits was unreasonable, he said.

He stressed that the tussle between the midwives and the nurses had caused many problems in the health sector. The Ministry had appointed a technical committee to arrive at a conclusion whether the nurses be trained as midwives or not. The government had to depend on the technical committee consisting of qualified visiting obstetricians and gynaecologists. The government could take its own decision to allow the nurses to do work in the labour rooms. If the technical committee did not approve the nurses being allowed into labour room duties, the government could not do anything.

Minister Sirisena said that the recommendations submitted by the technical committee would be carried out. There were about 106 trade unions in the Ministry, but only 15 trade unions were active. He spent much time in resolving trade unions’ problems. The tussle between the nurses and midwives was caused by a technical problem. The Ministry was not accountable for that.

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