Imagine, Zim doctors rejecting a pay increase!

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TOM MBAKWE

In sharp contrast to the conditions of Zimbabwe doctors whose strike action entered its 40th day yesterday, almost a year ago doctors in the Canadian province of Quebec protested against pay rises given them by the provincial government.

In a move described as “utterly Canadian”, over 700 doctors in Quebec protested against their pay rises last February, saying they already made too much money and asked for their pay rises to be cancelled.

The protest started on February 25 2018 when a group of doctors calling themselves “Médecins Québécois Pour le Régime Public” (MQRP) posted an online petition asking for their pay rises to be cancelled.

“We, Quebec doctors who believe in a strong public system, oppose the recent salary increases negotiated by our medical federations,” the petition read in French.

The doctors said they could not in good conscience accept pay rises when working conditions remained difficult for others in their profession — including nurses and clerks — and while patients “live with the lack of access to required services because of drastic cuts in recent years.”

Three days after the petition was posted online, 217 general practitioners, 187 specialists, 150 residents, and 163 medicals students had signed it. By the seventh day, the signatures had climbed to over 700.

A month previously, or exactly a year ago in January 2018, Quebec’s federation of medical specialists had reached a deal with the government to increase the annual salaries of the province’s 10,000 medical specialists by about 1,4%, or from $4,7 billion to $5, 4 billion in 2023.

The doctors denounced the $500m earmarked by the Quebec government for specialist doctors, saying the average salary for a specialist in Quebec was already high — $403,537 annually compared with $367,154 in neighbouring Ontario. The doctors therefore wanted the money to be spent on other branches of the health system enjoyed by the generality of the population.

Crucially, the pay rises had come after months of budget cuts to other public sectors by the provincial government, including other branches of the health care system.

The doctors’ petition therefore rightly argued: “The only thing that seems to be immune to the cuts is our salaries. Contrary to the prime minister’s statements, we believe that there is a way to redistribute the resources of the Quebec health system to promote the health of the population and meet the needs of patients without pushing workers to the end.”

The doctors ended their petition by asking that the salary increases be cancelled and the money be redistributed throughout Quebec’s health-care system.

It was kind of them as a nurses union in Quebec had in previous months pushed the government to address a nursing shortage, and seeking a law that would cap the number of patients a nurse could see.

The nurses union said its members were increasingly being overworked, and nurses across the province had held several sit-ins in previous months to push for better working conditions. A day after the doctors posted their petition online, Quebec’s health minister, Gaétan Barrette, responded by saying: “If they feel they are overpaid, they can leave the money on the table. I guarantee you I can make good use of it.”

On the issue of working conditions for medical personnel such as nurses, Barrette said, “that has to get our total attention. We have the money to address that, [but] that doesn’t mean we have infinite amounts of money, but we have the capacity to resolve that issue once and for all.”

How Zimbabwean doctors would want to exchange places with their Quebecois counterparts. Rejecting a pay increase in Zimbabwe? Not on this earth!