It is only a few days ago that the latest doctors’ strike whose impact to society is still being felt came to an end, after the intervention of our President.
At this time, when members of the public who endured the brunt of that unpleasant experience are feeling deserved relief, a person who dare suggest that what we have seen may be a proverbial calm before the storm is likely to be branded a pessimist, if not a trouble rouser, unless he presents his case convincingly. This is a challenge to be overcome in this column.
By the way, discussion on the subject is still going on in our midst, mainly because the first round of the latest strike was associated with about 200 deaths countrywide and much suffering of innocent patients.
Hence, there are all sorts of comments about the incident, some based on reliable information while others are derived from rumours. You then hear viewpoints which generate more heat than light, as one political analyst put it the other day.
There is a local English daily newspaper which this week came up with an eye-catching front page story with a headline which screamed: “ No more doctors’ strikes”.
A person with a few bucks to spare could not avoid buying this newspaper, as the temptation to find out who has discovered the magic wand to solve a problem of this magnitude is too big to be ignored. The writer was a victim of this newspaper selling antic and bought it straight. He has no regrets as the story gave him a theme for this commentary on silver platter.
In short the story was about President Jakaya Kikwete’s speech while addressing elders of Dar as Salaam during the week, his main theme being the just ended doctors’ strike.
He is quoted to have narrated the history of the strike and, as expected, used the opportunity to try and convince his audience that his government and previous ones have done their best to improve the working conditions of doctors and other health sector workers, only that the efforts are constrained by inadequate financial resources.
In any case, it is true the President said he expected the doctors not to go on strike in future, and this is where the “no more doctors’ strike in future” headline originated.
What is the basis for the President’s expectation that from now onwards a strike by doctors will be history? Analysis of his speech reveals two reasons. The first reason he gave is that professional ethics and the country’s laws do not allow professionals in sensitive areas like the health sector to go on strikes, as doing so may put lives of citizens at risk.
The second reason appears to be that, after all, some of the demands of doctors will be met and costs involved will be incorporated in the 2012/2013 national budget.
Now, the interesting aspect here is that on different occasions when the doctors have opted for going on strike, professional ethics and laws barring them from resorting to such actions have been in place - one may even say doctors are not ignorant of their professional ethics and the Hippocratic oath they take on graduation, even if not all of them may be conversant with the law which prohibit strike in professions of this nature. But experienced colleagues can guide them on this aspect in time of crisis.
From the aforesaid, we note that there are enough precedents to show that when workers’ frustration reach a boiling point, they tend to put aside matters of professional ethics and regulations as they opt to lay down tools at any cost.
Of course, when the most powerful government leader says he does not expect doctors to resort to a strike option again because the laws of the land do not allow them to do so, those who read such statements between the lines should be able to decode the veiled message - which is simply that the government has been lenient enough in the past and won’t hesitate to use the stick in case incidents of this nature recur in future.
But can this approach guarantee that professionals in sensitive areas won’t lay down tools when shortchanged while politicians, parliamentarians, administrators and others engaged in less taxing jobs enjoy better salaries and perks?
As we conclude, we may as well make it clear that those who consider the doctors’ latest strike as calm before the storm do not necessarily wish our country chaos but see signs indicating that workers in other sectors, who find it difficult to make ends meet, are too restless to guarantee industrial harmony.
Henry Muhanika is Media Consultant