The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lash for unions plaguing medicare

Calcutta, Aug. 24: Health minister Surya Kanta Mishra today launched a scathing attack on hospital unions — including Citu, the CPM’s labour arm — for “posing hindrances” to the city’s advancement in the field of healthcare.

“They have virtually turned hospitals into factories and this cannot be allowed any more,” Mishra said at a seminar organised by the nine-member private Association of Hospitals of Eastern India. “Unions are a major obstacle and posing hindrances to Calcutta’s advancement in medical excellence.”

The minister did not even spare Citu, though he did not mention it by name. “We need to be careful even dealing with our own union people (read Citu),” he said. “They are stubborn at times and negotiations with them become very difficult also.”

Mishra’s criticism came barely 24 hours after a management-employee problem reached a flashpoint at AMRI-Apollo Hospitals, forcing the authorities to call for police help. The dominant Intuc-controlled union struck work till 3 in the afternoon in protest against what they said was an anti-employee move.

“The management has been taking us for a ride on several issues, including bonus. Yesterday they asked for police intervention and harassed us,” said a senior union member. The union members alleged that the police beat up even woman employees.

A spokesman for the association of hospitals, of which AMRI is an integral part, dismissed the workers’ allegations as baseless. “We want to emphasise on proper work culture, which some employees do not want,” he said.

Referring to the deteriorating relationship between employees and the management of hospitals, the minister said the government was committed to helping private groups improve quality of healthcare but labour problems were coming in the way. “We are offering all possible help to them, but the strained relations between the management and the employees have become a major stumbling block,” Mishra said. He asked the association members to firmly deal with errant employees by taking the help of police and the government.

Reacting to Mishra’s comment, Citu secretary Kali Ghosh said the minister had expressed his personal views. “But, at the same time, one cannot ignore labour problems,” he added. “We believe that the management’s apathy towards employees creates labour problems.”

Ramen Pandey, president of the recently-formed Intuc-led paramedic association — the West Bengal Clinical and Medical Workers Federation — said Mishra should not have ignored the problems faced by employees.

During the day, the health minister met members of the association of hospitals and asked them to come up with plans to check the exodus of patients to other states. “We had a detailed discussion in this regard and will work in tandem to stop patient outflow. We have made vast improvement in the medical field and there is no need for people to leave the state for treatment,” he said.

Mishra announced that the government has already held talks with an insurance company on providing coverage to over 10,000 government employees in the health sector. “We are processing ways to provide health insurance and also make cross subsidies so that over 10 lakh people living below the poverty line gets healthcare at a premium,” he said.

Mishra said plans are on for an arrangement under which private and government hospitals can share expertise and patients from time to time.

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