Public hospital staff to pursue strike despite quarantine move

February 06, 2020 12:21
Striking public hospital workers stage a rally in front of the government headquarters in Admiralty on Wednesday to seek a meeting with Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: HKEJ

Government hospital workers staging a strike since Monday vowed to pursue their industrial action at least until Friday unless the government agrees to their demands, including a full closure of the border with mainland China.

Winnie Yu Wai-ming, chair of the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance (HAEA), told a news conference that about 7,000 members joined the strike on Wednesday, accounting for about one-tenth of the total number of workers under the Hospital Authority. They included 370 doctors, 4,500 nurses and 1,000 allied health professionals.

Yu said the alliance doubts if the 14-day mandatory quarantine for all people entering the city from the mainland can work, noting that the government announcement lacks details.

Even if the measure could be implemented, the government would have a hard time finding a place to quarantine tens of thousands of people arriving from the mainland, Yu said, adding that the measure may turn the city into large-scale quarantine camp, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

On Wednesday afternoon, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced that from Saturday onwards, authorities will quarantine anyone who arrives in Hong Kong from the mainland for 14 days.

The HAEA had earlier made it clear that if a community outbreak of the novel coronavirus occurs in Hong Kong, it will stop the strike.

However, Yu told the presser that the situation should be determined by experts rather than the alliance itself, adding that if the government is still unwilling to meet its demands by Friday, it will let its members decide whether to return to work at their own discretion.

On Wednesday morning, the alliance, accompanied by members of several political parties and workers’ unions, went to the government headquarters in Admiralty asking for a meeting with Lam. About 200 attended the rally, but only a representative from Lam's office came to accept their petition letter.

HAEA vice-chairman Ivan Law Cheuk-yiu on Thursday morning said a meeting between the Hospital Authority (HA) and the alliance was scheduled later in the day to discuss their demands.

He said the alliance was not ruling out a continuation of the strike if the negotiation was not successful.

Yu said it was not possible for the alliance to define community outbreak as it is not an expert, adding the alliance would take reference from expert advice in deciding what course of action to take next.

She also criticized the chief executive for ignoring the hospital workers' sincerity to communicate by rejecting their request for a meeting several times.

Lam said it was more suitable for the HA senior management to handle negotiations with the strikers.

Essential services affected

On Wednesday night, the government issued a statement on behalf of the HA that continuing industrial action has seriously affected certain emergency and essential services of public hospitals, noting that more than 5,100 of its employees were absent from duty as of 7 p.m. that day.

In the case of obstetrics and gynecology services, “some elective cesarean operations need to be deferred”, while emergency medicine wards in a few Accident & Emergency Departments “need to be closed owing to insufficient manpower”, said HA chief manager (cluster performance) Dr. Ian Cheung Tsz-fung.

“Elective percutaneous coronary intervention in a hospital cluster needs to be reduced by half,” Cheung added.

He warned that if the strike persists, no one can guarantee that something bad will not happen.

In an online blog, HA chairman Henry Fan Hung-ling praised the hospital personnel who have chosen to report for work, saying they will never be alone in fighting the epidemic.

Fan said his office is talking with private hospitals and doctors on how they can help in handling some of the patients.

He also promised to get additional resources to provide allowances for HA employees, including a special rent allowance of HK$500 per day for those working in high-risk zones.

Executive Council member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who is chairwoman of the New People's Party, suggested that the administration apply for a court injunction to stop the ongoing strike.

Ip said the strike is illegal as it does not comply with the Trade Unions Ordinance and violates the Basic Law.

She accused the HAEA of misconduct in public office by inciting hospital personnel to join the strike.

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