Hospital Authority urges strikers to return to work

February 07, 2020 11:33
The Hospital Authority appealed to patients with mild condition to seek consultation at private hospitals and doctors in view of the limited number of staff on duty in public hospitals. Photo: HKEJ

The Hospital Authority (HA) appealed to striking public healthcare workers to return to work, saying that services in government hospitals have been seriously affected by the industrial action, which is now on its fifth day.

Thousands of public hospital workers may extend their work stoppage which began on Monday as the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance (HAEA) accused the authority of lacking sincerity in the negotiations with the union.

After a closed-door meeting that lasted one and a half hours on Thursday afternoon, the alliance said its members would hold a vote on Friday on whether they wanted to continue their action to force the government to order a full border closure, among other demands, as the coronavirus epidemic in the mainland worsened and cases of infection in the city rose, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

“All public hospital Accident & Emergency Departments can only focus their limited number of staff on duty to the provision of emergency services," a spokesperson for the authority said in a statement on Friday.

"The HA appeals to patients with mild condition to seek consultation at private hospitals and doctors,” the spokesperson said.

“Specialist Outpatient Clinics can only provide limited services and patients are advised to reschedule their appointments by contacting the clinics. Patients can go to the clinics to refill their drugs if required."

The HA appealed to all healthcare workers who have not reported for duty to return to work the soonest to provide services to the patients.

It thanked staff who have stayed on duty to maintain emergency services as far as possible, the spokesperson said.

HAEA chair Winnie Yu Wai-ming slammed HA officials for coming to Thursday's meeting unprepared and expressing no sincerity to communicate.

"We didn't get any solutions from the management level", RTHK quoted Yu as saying.

Yu said the HA officials were not immediately responsive to the strikers’ 11 demands, including full closure of Hong Kong's border with the mainland and a promise that those who joined the strike would not be held accountable after they returned to work.

The alliance representatives came out of the meeting extremely disappointed, she said as she accused the authority of being irresponsible.

Yu also finds it ridiculous that the authority insists that the HAEA is not officially recognized by the existing mechanism.

She noted that the alliance has nearly 20,000 members, accounting for about 25 percent of the total number of staff under the authority.

On Friday morning, Yu told media that if more than 6,000 members are in favor of continuing the strike, depending on the voting result, the strike will extend to Wednesday next week, otherwise, the industrial action will be suspended.

The voting is expected to be finished by 4 p.m. on Friday.

HAEA vice-chairman Ivan Law Cheuk Yiu said if less than 6,000 members are in favor of the strike, such a low turnout might not be enough to pressure the government.

Some 8,440 healthcare workers had joined the strike as of Thursday, while the number of alliance members had risen to more than 20,000, Yu said. But still, the HA chose to ignore their demands, she said.

HA chief executive Dr. Tony Ko Pat-sing told media after the closed-door meeting that Thursday’s negotiation went quite well as both sides shared common goals.

The talks between the sides mainly centered on issues such as protective equipment and arrangements for their work and boarding, Ko added.

Asked why he failed to promise that there would be no reprisal for strikers, Ko said the authority would have to look at each individual case based on human sentiment, reasoning and the law.

Dr. Ian Cheung Tsz-fung, HA chief manager (cluster performance), said about 5,000 HA workers did not report for work on Thursday, the same number as the previous day, but he had noticed that some had a change of heart and were willing to return to work.

The Food and Health Bureau reportedly considered applying for a court injunction to stop the hospital workers' strike.

The bureau did not respond to inquiries about the matter, saying only that it would take necessary measures at an appropriate time to keep public hospitals running.

The HA said in a statement on Friday that as “a large number of staff members are anticipated to be absent from duty, emergency services in public hospitals will be affected to a certain extent today.”

On Friday, hundreds of striking public hospital workers gathered inside the Hospital Authority building in Kowloon City, demanding an open dialogue with the HA management over their demands.

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