Another call to make health workers’ strikes illegal

The Orthopaedic Society  has added its voice to calls to ban strikes for essential health workers.

Patients’ lives were at risk during strike action by essential health workers and such action should be made illegal, says the New Zealand Orthopaedic Society president, Dunedin specialist John Matheson.

He said the society, a professional body of 185 orthopaedic surgeons, was calling on the Minister of Health to make strike action illegal and to introduce compulsory arbitration for workers in essential health services.

Working during the 2006 medical radiologists’ strikes was the “most vulnerable” period of his career, Mr Matheson said.

“Working without X-rays for an orthopaedic surgeon is akin to working in a Third World country.

“We just feel that the public, and the people in the union and district health boards, and even the ministry, really have no idea what it is like when health professionals, particularly medical radiation technologists, go on strike, because no-one else can do that job.”

It was “extremely difficult” to diagnose and manage patients’ injuries and sudden illness without X-rays and other radiological investigations and patient care was similarly affected during strikes by junior doctors, Mr Matheson said.

Providing life preserving cover during strike action was not “cut and dried” and the society agreed with comments from Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson it was an “incontrovertible fact” patient safety was jeopardised during strikes.

“We are not taking sides. It is just the whole process we are concerned about; [concerned] that it should get to strike action. There must be some better way of doing this, such as compulsory arbitration.”

Previous calls from the society to make strike action illegal had been rejected by past and present Ministers of Health and union leaders, he said.

“They must believe the rights of the public with serious needs are less important than the rights of health workers to strike.”

Police can’t strike for the sake of public safety, essential health workers should be prevented from striking for the sake of individuals’ safety.

8 Responses to Another call to make health workers’ strikes illegal

  1. They can’t be prevented from striking but you can punish them for striking. The difference is important. If they are striking due to low pay, then levying fines or incarceration as punishment may see them resign completely. Who could afford to be a health worker if the fascists won’t negotiate in good faith knowing they can throw you in prison or take your property away if you reject their coercion-backed offers?

    What political party would support such coercion? What worker would accept it?


  2. homepaddock says:

    TS: If strikes are legal you can’t punish workers for striking.

    It is illegal for police to strike, ahve you noticed them being imprisoned or losing property over wage negotiations?

    We are not talking inconvenience to the public here we are talking the potential for death – see:

    If it was also illegal for essential health workers to strike there would have to be compulsory arbitration or something similar, as there is with police, to ensure that a mutually acceptable agreement was reached between employers and employees.

    Strikes are blunt instruments – workers on strike lose pay, sometimes more than they gain in an annual wage increase, so compulsory arbitraion could be a better way of settling industrial disagreements.


  3. Oliver says:

    MAF and Customs Officers working on the frontline at airports, seaports and mail centres can’t strike either.


  4. Oliver says:

    Nor can the military.


  5. jafapete says:

    What truthseeker said.

    Here’s how it works. They abolished slavery some time ago. Civilised countries recognise that workers should be able to take strike action as a fundamental right. There is a very long-standing ILO Convention supporting this.

    Where workers cannot strike, they need to be covered by arbitration that determines their wages and conditions. This is particularly so in the public sector where the employer also makes the rules. There is a slight reference to this in the article that makes up 90%+ of your post, but you don’t address this at all. Why not?

    God knows, even the Chinese Governemnt has started providing decent protections for Chinese workers. Surely you can do as well as them.


  6. homepaddock says:

    jafa: Silly me, I’d forgotten some people automatically divide the world into employers bad and employees good so it didn’t occur to me that people would think anyone was advocating leaving workers with no rights at all.

    If workers don’t have the right to strike then, as I said to Truthseeker above, there must be compulsory arbitration or something else to replace that right.

    A body like the Higher Salaries Commission has been suggested – see new post


  7. jafapete says:

    Homepaddock, Can’t see where I said anything about employers bad and employees good. That position is innane. An apology for misrepresenting me would be in order.

    But I am glad to see that it was just a little oversight on your part that led you to ignore the consequences of what you were supporting for the workers, without some other alternative to striking. Yes, the subsequent post does make up for this.


  8. homepaddock says:

    Jafa – you didn’t say employers bad, employees good, that was the inference I drew from your assumption I was advocating taking away the right to strike without replacing it with some other protection for workers.

    Before you posted your first comment I’d already made it clear in my response to Truthseeker that compulsory arbitration or something similar would be required if strikes were illegal.


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