Face off: Is it morally acceptable for medical staff to strike?

Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week …

Joanne Ma |

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Medical workers hold a strike outside the Hospital Authority as they demand for Hong Kong to close its border with China to reduce the coronavirus spreading, in Hong Kong, China February 4, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Laila Joy Albuquerque, 18, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Doctors should be given the right to strike for autonomy, justice and fair wages like any other employee is entitled to do. While going on strike poses a moral dilemma for doctors – who must choose between their obligation to uphold the values of the profession, and their obligation to their patients – denying them the right to strike itself becomes an ethical and moral dilemma.

While doctors need to provide adequate care to current patients, advocating for better health care services for future patients should continue.

In Hong Kong, labour strikes have for years been key to solving the power struggle between the medical sector and the government.

Recently, health care workers lined up outside hospitals to pressure the government into tightening border controls to curtail the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, and to show their frustration at the government’s lack of action. This shows that striking can be a powerful tool in collective negotiations for the common good, especially when all else fails.

Some may argue that doctors going on strike to demand higher salaries is a classic tale of ego coming before ethics. But this argument fails to take into account the moral baggage that restricts health care workers from striking unless extreme conditions persist.

While money can reflect the value of treatment by medical professionals, the services that these civil servants provide, and the risks and sacrifices they make – treating life-threatening illness and personally coming into contact with infectious diseases – are often undervalued. And without adequate pay, doctors forced to work overtime may do so under less than ideal work conditions and incentives. To safeguard their right to reasonable pay – like any other worker – doctors reserve the right to advocate for justifiable wages and strike for labour negotiations, especially if the work interferes with their quality of life.

All in all, doctors should reserve every right to strike at their own discretion, whether it’s because they feel mistreated, or because they feel the lack of health support is hindering the well-being of the community.

Strikes ultimately serve to ensure the government and doctors reach a consensus and work together, so they can in turn benefit the community to the best of their ability.

Face off: Should Hong Kong ban the entry of all visitors from the mainland amid the coronavirus outbreak?

Nester Chik, 17, Sing Yin Secondary School

The strike by the medical sector has sparked a community backlash. From my perspective, these staff members are immoral.

The coronavirus epidemic is spreading at a rapid rate, causing a huge increase in the demand for health care and medical services. If Hongkongers, who are entitled to convenient and high quality medical services, fear they have been infected, doctors are the only ones who can provide professional diagnoses and support. It is therefore irresponsible for medical staff to leave these patients alone.

When compared to the tireless efforts of medical staff during the 2003 Sars outbreak, the attitudes of doctors today leave much to be desired. Back then, the remarkable doctor Tse Yuen-man sacrificed her life to save dying patients. Now, doctors are choosing to abandon their duties.

They are not only letting down those patients who have been infected, but all citizens in Hong Kong. Patients in need of treatment may not be receiving it due to the strike, and this could cause the epidemic to spiral further out of control. Although some medical staff have promised they will go back to work if they see a clear pattern of infection within a community, it is a matter of “now or never” to try to shut this virus down. In other words, they peg their welfare to the public’s health, risking all of our safety.

However, while I believe the strike is morally unacceptable, I am willing to accept that the reasons for striking are complex, and that the medical sector isn’t the only one at fault. In the Bible, Jesus teaches that we should only “cast a stone if you have no sins”. The message is that, no matter how immoral the strike is, we cannot simply stand on the moral high ground and condemn the staff who are striking. Rather, we should be making sure that we are doing all we can to support efforts to contain the virus, too.