The barber, the doctors and the striking workers

Published: February 12, 2012

Hospital staff is outraged at the fact that under the HPS system, the only way they can get promoted is by earning it. PHOTO: FILE/INP

“Uncle” works at the barber shop I frequent. The aging Balakot native has seen his share of hardships since I’ve known him. In 2005 he, like thousands of others in Balakot, was left homeless in the aftermath of the earthquake. After returning to Islamabad, he worked tirelessly to save enough money to start afresh, not an easy task for someone contemplating retirement only weeks earlier.

Almost six years later, with life just having returned to normalcy, Uncle suffered a heart attack that temporarily left him unable to work. Not something anyone working paycheck-to-paycheck can afford.

Uncle returned to the workplace part-time in January, hoping to make enough to live and pay his medical bills, a viable proposition, even if just barely so.

Unfortunately, the hospital strikes left him unable to access the diagnostic facilities at Pims, and he was left pondering how to raise Rs14,000 to get the tests done at a private hospital. All this because nonmedical staff and some health professionals are outraged that under the HPS system, the only way they can get promoted is by earning it. They will actually need to work instead of napping from noon to five and waiting for a timescale-based promotion.

When doctors went on strike last year, some, including myself, felt that they were demanding far too much. However, once the government caved and accepted the majority of their demands, one would have thought that this chapter was closed.

Instead, this strange new chapter began.

The announcement that the strike ended on Friday, with OPDs to reopen on Monday is good news for him, but it still leaves a few questions unanswered. For one, where did the strike start?

At first glance one might think it was lower cadre employees worried about job security. However, word on the inside suggests that a senior admin official eyeing the Pims Executive Director’s job had a hand, and possibly more, in pushing the workers to strike. Apparently, this official, due to a lack of relevant qualifications, would become ineligible to become ED if the HPS rules come into play.

I’m sure Uncle would be upset to know one affluent man’s greed might have cost him a bundle of cash.

Another problem is the fact that many doctors didn’t support the strike. Strange, but only until one speaks to one of them. Multiple health professionals, some baby-faced, some grandfatherly, but all well reputed, agreed unanimously that the HPS package was the best thing to happen for doctors in their lifetimes. Some found it incomprehensible that anyone would want to stay in the BPS system, unless they had any doubts about the quality of their performance. Hardly a vote of confidence for the striking workers.

When the PM finally made a peace offering, namely a one-off bonus of a month’s pay, and the JAC leading the strike realising they won’t get much more than that, the strike was called off, with exactly zero of the striking workers initial demands met. While this pointless exercise in making the public miserable may qualify them to run for public office, it really doesn’t make for great lifesavers. The fact that they tried to mix religion (Eid) in to the reason the strike was called off only shows how hard they’re trying to save face.

Uncle may not be impressed by this episode, but he should consider himself lucky he’s still alive. How many poor people were less fortunate than him?

Vaqas Asghar

Vaqas Asghar

A sub-editor on the Islamabad city pages of The Express Tribune, Vaqas holds a Master's degree in IR from Iqra University. Before joining ET, he taught history and was also a member of the editorial staff at Blue Chip Magazine. He tweets as @vasghar (twitter.com/vasghar)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

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