July 16, 2014

INDIA: Maharashtra Government Is Hiring 1,000 Doctors Via Walk-in Interviews To Replace Striking Medical Officers

Mumbai Mirror, India
written by Lata Mishra
Monday July 7, 2014

As the state-wide doctors' strike enters its seventh day, the government has taken the unprecedented step of advertising for the post of medical officers across the state. The state health minister told Mumbai Mirror that starting today walk-in interviews will be conducted across the state.

The decision was taken after a meeting between striking doctors and state health department Principal Secretary Sujata Saunik ended in an impasse. On Sunday, the state terminated the first batch of 265 contract doctors on strike and was processing the termination orders for others. The government, which is terminating those on contract first, said doctors who did not join duty at 8 am today will face police action. Around 200 doctors joined work on Sunday.

Medical officers are posted in primary health centres and district health centres. The minimum qualification for the post is a basic MMBS degree. The interviews will be conducted at the state's six division commissionerates and deputy directorates of health services. There are a 10,000 medical officer posts, of which 1,000 will be filled first.

Over 10,000 doctors who are part of the Maharashtra State Gazetted Medical Officers Organisation (MAGMO) have been on an indefinite strike since July 1, demanding permanent posts for 1,400 medical officers who are on contract, implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission salaries, eight-hour work days, and increase in the retirement age from 58 to 62.

The state last on Friday invoked the Maharashtra Essential Services and Maintenance Act and threatened to sack the doctors if they did not immediately report to duty. With the striking doctors remaining defiant, the state has now decided to replace them all.

"We have decided to hire 1,000 new medical officers on contract," state Health Minister Suresh Shetty told Mirror. "The work on this will begin on Monday. The demands of the striking doctors are not acceptable. Contract staff are hired in every government department. Tomorrow, if all of them demand to be made permanent, imagine the pressure it will put on the government."

Earlier, Principal Secretary Saunik asked the doctors to call off the strike "unconditionally" or face action. She said their demands were unreasonable.

"Enough discussions and meetings have happened," said Saunik. "Their main demand is the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission scales and other benefits to contract doctors, which we cannot fulfil. These doctors were taken on contract with clear terms that there will not be any benefits. Accepting their demands will cost the exchequer Rs 174 crore and it is not even legally possible. Seeking permanent medical officer posts for 789 ayurvedic doctors is another outlandish claim. They cannot even perform surgeries. Instead we have decided to fill the posts with qualified MBBS doctors."

Saunik added that the state was willing to consider their other demands, but the doctors were adamant about only these unreasonable ones. She said the state was willing to consider increasing the retirement age to 62, regularise promotion procedure, and create optional non-practicing allowance for medical officers who are pursuing PG degrees.

"We have given them enough time," said Saunik. "Patients are suffering and now we have put them on top of our priorities. We do not want a temporary solutions and hiring new doctors will be a permanent solution."

Dr Rajendra Gaikwad, president, MAGMO said it was an all-or-nothing battle for the doctors, adding that they do not mind losing their jobs. "We are not scared about the government action," said Dr Gaikwad who has been on a hunger strike with a few of his colleagues since July 1. "Despite working for more than 15 years, we are still on contract. Our demands are genuine and we will continue our strike. We are not afraid of being arrested."

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