Cyprus

Our View: Even in a pandemic, public sector clings to privileges

The behaviour of some public sector unions during the pandemic has been a disgrace. Instead of helping the government deal with the emergency situation, they have been going out of their way to undermine and place obstacles in the efforts made by the government to deal with the many problems caused by the pandemic. Even in these difficult times, when everyone should be contributing to the national effort, some public sector unions are playing destructive power games and placing the narrow interests of their members above the rest of society.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic last spring, teaching unions have been on a mission to destroy the education ministry’s distance learning with their persistent ‘can’t do’ attitude. First, they refused to do online teaching, then they came up with the absurd claim that online teaching was a violation of personal data – a dispute that needed more than six months to be resolved – while they kept complaining that internet connections at school were too slow etc. More recently, they have been protesting against the injustice of having to go their schools to deliver online lessons, wanting to do this from their home as all public employees were working from home.

State hospital nurses’ and doctors’ union surpassed the teachers, raising union irresponsibility and contempt for the people they are supposed to serve to another level. Since Monday they have been issuing announcements claiming the hospitals were understaffed, mismanaged and disorganised and accusing the Okypy management of incompetence. More specifically, the nursing union Pasyno accused Okypy of constantly diminishing the quality and safety of care, “placing money above everything.” The bad management increased the number of problems “with the result that nurses were burdened physically and psychologically, with consequences for the health and safety of patients.”

The union listed reasons why people should not trust hospitals. It said the increase in the number of ICUs had led to their staffing by young and inexperienced staff that cannot cope with increased cases and that had been trained in intensive care nursing. New Covid-19 wards that were set up were understaffed had had low nurse to patients’ ratios. In other words, people should not trust state hospitals and they were not safe if they had to enter ICUs because they would be looked after by inexperienced nurses that did not know what they were doing! And we are being told this by Pasyno, whose members make up the majority of nurses in the hospitals that we cannot trust.

From the war of words it is quite clear Pasyno has kicked up all this fuss about the alleged disorganisation and understaffing of hospitals because nurses may have been forced to make a little more effort at work, perhaps doing extra shifts (for which they are paid). This is why they are claiming the low nurse to patients’ ratio in Covid-19 wards – a ratio which Okypy says compared favourably with most countries – demanding hospital operations were suspended and patients were sent to private hospitals to ease their workload. Apart from defending their members’ right to an untaxing working life the unions have also complained that decisions were being taken by Okypy without consulting them; it is also a power issue.

Everything is reduced to a matter of workers’ rights – privileges, in the case of the public sector. Even when the country is going through a national health emergency, with the authorities struggling to cope with increasing demands on the public health system, which might be close to breaking point, doctors and nurses are not prepared to do the little extra required of them for the sake of their fellow citizens. Nurses want more staff hired so they can get through the emergency situation without having to put in any extra effort. Ironically, some 200 nurses have been hired and Okypy has also recruited students in the third and fourth year of nursing schools to help out at the hospitals, but Pasyno is still complaining! The union has not said a word about the 350 ‘experienced’ nurses that are on sick leave. Nicosia General hospital is operating with 20 per cent (200) of its nurses on leave.

Doctors union Pasyki, meanwhile, has rejected a proposal by Okypy for doctors, not involved with Covid-19 patients, to do a day’s duty on the Covid wards every three months in order to ease the burden of their colleagues. They are not prepared to work on the Covid wards one day every 14 weeks! These doctors received massive pay rises a few months ago, to stay at the state hospitals, but have no trouble undermining the operation of these hospitals.

This is the self-interestedness cultivated by public sector unionism, which has created a class of entitled, selfish monsters, who know only to take from society and never to give, not even when the country is in a national health emergency and needs everyone pulling in the same direction.

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