MPATT'S lack of tact
The first line of an advertisement by the Medical Professionals Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MPATT), which is addressed to the Chief Personnel Officer and Public Administration Minister Dr Lenny Saith, reads, "You are hereby advised that consultants will Not (sic) accept a basic salary less than that of a secondary school principal."
What these doctors are really saying is that they consider themselves to be more important than secondary school principals. It is, of course, true that doctors spend more years of study and more money to get their qualifications than do secondary school principals. But that does not necessarily make them more important to the society. Indeed, in Japan, teachers are held in higher esteem than doctors, which is no doubt one reason that that country is developed and we are not. But even here, according to the most recent Market and Opinion Research International (MORI) poll, teachers are more trusted than doctors. So, too, are nurses.
What is remarkable here, though, is the arrogance of the doctors who actually think this comparison such a strong negotiating point that they have repeated it ad nauseam. They aren't even arguing that their salaries are inadequate - only that they should be paid according to their perceived status. And, in an attempt to blackmail the Government into meeting their demands for higher pay, the senior doctors as of last Friday stopped working overtime on weekdays, weekends, and public holidays. In response, the public hospitals have advised citizens to seek medical attention at those times only for extreme emergencies. Apparently, the junior doctors, despite the years of training which surpasses that of, say, primary school teachers, are not able to deal with emergencies unless supervised by a senior doctor or consultant.
In one sense, though, the senior doctors should not be blamed for their attitude. Ours is a culture where persons are often judged on superficial bases - not the content of their character, but the content of their wallets. Ours is also a society where the government has always been spendthrift, even in lean times when the burden falls on the poorer sectors of society as ministers keep their perks. And now, with an energy boom bringing in windfall dollars, the Patrick Manning administration shows no signs of fiscal restraint. It is thus no wonder that the doctors follow suit.
However, doctors are expected to meet a higher standard than politicians. But that was in the past - indeed, the "senior" doctors at the centre of this industrial action are senior only in title. The real senior doctors, many of whom trained the ones now in MPATT, saw themselves as more than workers merely earning a salary. And what adds insult to injury in this situation is that the doctors now protesting, already earn salaries far higher than that of secondary school principals, since they all also get incomes from their private practices.
It is not that we begrudge the doctors their high earnings. But we do think that, if they are indeed deserving of the status they have, they can find a better way of negotiating for more money than by putting people's lives at risk.
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