More than 15,000 contract doctors will wage a nationwide strike for a single day, tentatively on the 1st of July 2021 to protest against the government’s contract scheme for junior doctors. The movement is led by an independent organization that goes by the name of Hartal Doktor Kontrak.
For context, in the past, doctors in Malaysia were appointed directly to permanent service. This permanent position is important in terms of a doctor’s career progression and professional development. The government however, switched to contract hire basis in December 2016, citing shortened post-graduation/pre-employment waiting period as a reason.
The opinions of the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) regarding the switch to contract hire were not sought prior to implementation and thus the MMA had raised concerns about the issue several years ago. The government has had 5 years since December 2016 to revamp the system to ensure that specialist training programmes remained accessible to contract doctors. However, there has yet to be any substantial reforms to be seen.
The reason why this issue has now come into the public light is because in December 2021, the first batch of contract doctors will be ending their current contract. As such, time is running out and something needs to be done before yet another batch of young doctors are made to go through this ordeal.
“The tasks that we bear are the same, the portfolio in the department is the same, but there are differences for the pay grade and ranking,” – anonymous doctor –
According to The Star, the Malaysian Medical Association Section Concerning House Officers, Medical Officers and Specialists (MMA SCHOMOS) said they do not condone a work strike during the pandemic. However, the townhall is their only option for their voices to be heard, while showing solidarity for junior doctors. MMA added they have discussed several issues faced by the house officers, medical officers and specialists during their meeting with Finance Minister, Tengku Zafrul and he had agreed to look into the current working papers and expedite the matter.
According to MMA’s latest Facebook post, MMA has not and is not having a strike. They repeated that, “As doctors, our first and foremost guiding principle is still to do no harm. While the MMA and Schomos will not condone a work strike during a pandemic, we will instead be planning for a day of solidarity for our junior doctors”.
Instead, MMA has suggested Code Black and Black Monday on 12th of July where the idea of the Black Monday is NOT to strike but to show solidarity for Junior Doctors. The idea is to change profile pictures and institution logos to black and to go to work wearing black clothing.
In essence, the protest is not one of violence, but merely one to signify solidarity with Malaysian junior doctors. The group is seeking, among others, clear and available career pathways and postgraduate pathways to specialisation for contract doctors, detailed and transparent criteria for permanent posts, equal and fair treatment between contract and permanent staff and job security for all healthcare workers.
“We honour the constitution and it is not our intent to disrupt harmony in the country. But after three changes in government and three changes in health ministers, there has been no progress made on this issue. We need answers and we need results that are physical in nature,” – organizers of Hartal –
Although many groups are questioning the credibility of this claim, since the contract system is used in many other countries, with the most common example being that of United Kingdom. However, the issue with our Malaysian contract system is that there are no transparent criteria with regards to selection for permanent post and/or contract renewal and there is also no proper plan for career progression due to short contract periods vis-a-vis long training specialisation periods.
This is very much in contrast to the system practiced by the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom, where contracts are awarded with fully transparent criteria and at sufficient lengths to complete specialisation and their training programmes are also well established.
Although this issue concerns mostly doctors and those in the medical field, it is relevant to every Malaysian and will inevitably impact our lives at a certain point too. The Malaysian healthcare is known to be one of the best and most affordable in the world, but it is these doctors who will determine whether or not Malaysia will be able to maintain that in the near future. Public hospitals are being understaffed, not because of a lack of doctors, but because of how doctor’s welfare in the public sector has not been given the attention it needs.
While saying that young doctors embrace the Health Ministry’s slogan “Kami Sedia Membantu” (We are ready to help), contract doctors are however at a dead end and need the help and support of the country’s leaders to get out of this problem. Just as the doctors themselves have provided help when help was needed, especially during these trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic.