Turkish ministry threatens healthcare workers to prevent strike in March

The Turkish Health Ministry has in a letter sent to the country’s provincial health directorates threatened healthcare workers with disciplinary action in the event they participate in a possible strike in March, the Duvar news website reported.

Physicians and healthcare workers who are members of Turkey’s leading healthcare unions went on a one-day strike on February 8 to protest grueling work hours, low pay, mobbing and violence, among other problems they are currently facing.

With reference to the Turkish constitution and Civil Servants Law No. 657, the ministry said disciplinary action would be taken against healthcare staff who leave work to participate in the strike.

The strike in February was staged by the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) and the Health and Social Service Employees Union (SES) in İstanbul, İzmir, Aydın, Muğla, Ankara and Antalya. All services except emergency care were halted at healthcare facilities where union members worked.

Healthcare professionals mainly complain about low wages, poor working conditions, the commercialization of healthcare and the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) efforts to undermine peace in the workplace.

The worsening economy and soaring inflation in the country reduced some doctors’ salaries close to minimum wage, while long shifts caused an assistant doctor to die last fall after she plowed her car into the back of a truck.

According to the TTB, more than 13,000 health professionals lodged complaints that they had been subjected to violence at work in 2020.

Among the demands of the TTB are a wage increase of at least 150 percent, the abolishment of abject working conditions in healthcare facilities and an end to eschewing merit-based assignments and precarious employment in private healthcare institutions, the Birgün daily said.

Last month The New York Times said in a report, citing data from the TTB, that more than 1,400 Turkish doctors left the country to work abroad in 2021, and 4,000 within the last 10 years. Many more are preparing applications and have requested certificates of good standing from the organization, according to the NYT report.

The doctors’ departures are a sad indictment of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who burnished his own reputation by expanding universal health care over his 18 years in power, the NYT said, adding that it was one of his signature achievements.

But the strains of those overhauls wrought by Erdoğan, in addition to those brought by the pandemic — and now galloping inflation — have undermined the very professionals on whom the health system depends, the Times said.

Erdoğan and Dr. Fahrettin Koca, Turkey’s health minister, have both acknowledged the problem of Turkey’s brain drain but have offered little practical respite. “Don’t forget, our physicians are the best-trained physicians, and the richest countries have their eyes on them,” Koca told parliament in a speech in December.

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