Hartal Doktor Kontrak 0 536

Doctors and healthcare professionals all over the world have been the solid foundation of this pandemic, without their hard work and perseverance, so many lives would have been lost. In Malaysia, we pride ourselves on our amazing healthcare having excellent service at both private and public hospitals. 

With our country crossing 1 million cases, the daily numbers reaching an all-time high and hospitals being pushed to the brink of capacity, healthcare workers have been reaching their breaking point. Not only are they overworked and have been facing the brunt of this pandemic, but they have also not been given the job security that they so deeply deserve.

To stand up for their rights, doctors all over Malaysia protested under the Hartal Doktor Kontrak movement and walked out of their respective posts at 11am yesterday.

The demands of this strike are simple: 

That the doctors who are contracted be given the opportunity to become permanent staff with all the additional benefits that come with it. Given that it is actually within the mandate of their training, what these doctors are asking for is just what they have been promised upon their graduation. 

We took some time to speak to one doctor who has been working on the frontline:

1- Why do you feel it has come to the point where there is a need for a strike?

The contract system has been in place for 5 years now. In the beginning, we were promised that we would be absorbed as permanent doctors (and thus a step up in pay grade, get all the associated benefits, etc) once we finished our 2-3 year housemanship. But then, the government said we would be continuing our contract, and that if you fulfil certain criteria, you would be able to obtain a permanent post. But then they were in turn not transparent on WHAT these criteria were… the list of lies and false promises goes on and on. And now, five years on, when the first batch of contract MOs are facing the end of their contracts, with no guarantee that the contract itself will be renewed… they’re faced with no jobs. They have to go and either work in the private sector or seek greener pastures in some other field. 

Imagine that.

The other thing is – contract doctors cannot further their studies and become specialists under this current contract system. Contract doctors are not eligible for the local master degree programmes that trains specialists. For certain specialities, you can attempt to take what is called the parallel pathway – to sit for external exams from the UK or Australia, paid from your own pocket of course, and to get accredited via that. The problem with this is that you need a certain amount of hours and weeks and years clocked in before this parallel pathway can accept you as a candidate. And if you’re on a contract that has a clock ticking, and without a guarantee that you can fulfil that amount of hours, you’re just wasting your money because you cannot be a specialist anyway. 

All of this, all the years of being told that you should shrug off these problems and focus on your patients when you’re getting burned out and disillusioned… I think that’s why it’s come to this point. This tipping point.

2- This process of going from contract worker to permanent staff has been commonplace amongst medical fresh grads, is this a call for permanent reformation?

There needs to be a reform overall I think. If you look at doctors in the UK, all of them are hired on a contract basis. The difference is that they have a chance to further their studies, and have fair and equal benefits among all. If you want the contract doctors to be satisfied, at least make it so that we have the same benefits and opportunity to further our studies as our permanent counterparts. Either that being by making everybody permanent, or making everybody contract, we don’t really care. We just want what we’re due.

3- Do you feel like you have been put in a position where you have no choice but to work under contract?

There is no choice. In Malaysia, to qualify as a fully registered doctor, you need to complete your Housemanship (internship) in a government hospital. The only way you can do that now is by being hired as a contract houseman. Upon completing your housemanship, you are upgraded to a contract MO (lower paygrade, fewer benefits than permanent MOs). You want to specialise? In Malaysia – only possible in government service. 

Unless you want to be a private GP, or a medical officer in a private hospital… I don’t see how there’s any choice other than being a contract doctor in the government service.

4- What role has the pandemic played in sparking this movement?

The pandemic has highlighted a lot of the flaws in the current contract system. It is easier to mobilise contract workers (I am not entirely sure the reasons why), which is why you see 60-70% of our COVID frontliners being made up of contract doctors. We can be sent across the country, from Peninsular to Sabah/Sarawak within a week’s notice. We’re thrown into COVID hospitals, COVID wards, MAEPS, PPV centres, with barely enough time to breathe. Because we are quote-unquote dispensable, it is easy for the government to make use of us. And just like wet tissue paper, we are then discarded once we have fulfilled our purpose. 

That’s a metaphor I’ve often used in the past year and a half. With no news on whether our contracts will be renewed in 5 years, after having thrown us to the dogs so to speak in this pandemic, it’s no wonder we feel disregarded. Unappreciated. All the hashtag thank you frontliners, falls flat when you realise no matter how much you praise us and clap for us it won’t matter if we’re jobless in a year once the pandemic is over.

5- If it wasn’t for the dire state of covid in our country, would you seek employment elsewhere?

I’m lucky in a sense. I graduated from a university that allows me to have GMC registration (the UK equivalent of the MMC). At any point in time, if I decided that working in Malaysia was enough, I could theoretically up and move to the UK and practice there. And I’ve thought about it many times. A lot of my classmates have done so themselves, and sometimes ask me why I haven’t gone over myself. 

The simple answer is that – Malaysia is my home. I became a doctor to help people, and who better to help than those in my own country? 

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Same, Same But Different 0 502

It feels the same, it looks the same but it’ll never be the same

It’s been about two months of returning back to a somewhat normalised life. Although it may feel trite to constantly talk about it, readjusting, again and again, is so damn hard. After living life a certain way for the past two years, it has become almost inconceivable to seek the old lives we used to have. 

We became used to ample downtime with ourselves – it often even felt like too much time alone with our thoughts. We became used to a lower level of social interaction, only speaking to one another through our screen. Even work was done from the comfort of our homes.

“The thing about change is that everything feels the same until it doesn’t. You wake up one day and realise that life is completely different than it was just a few months ago”

When things burst open the way they did, many of us were caught in the wave. Going through the motions of the New Normal, just trying to keep up. The thing about change is that everything feels the same until it doesn’t. You wake up one day and realise that life is completely different than it was just a few months ago. 

To me, it feels like in an attempt of keeping up with all these changes, we haven’t taken the time to process what we all went through. I watch people around me live their lives with ease and without the fear that exists like a dull headache – not particularly bothersome but everpresent. Or maybe that’s just how it looks from the outside, maybe everybody feels that nagging anxiety that all of this is fragile and temporary. 

I too have been enjoying the relaxed regulations and am finally feeling like my life is progressing, but it also feels as if I am constantly just getting away with it. I am getting away without getting the virus, I am getting away with spending time with my friends, I am getting away with trying to enjoy life once more. It still feels like I’m doing something wrong and am just lucky enough to skate by without repercussion.

However, a part of me is still waiting for the shoe to drop. For the moment when the dreadful news of a new variant or another lockdown that’ll send us back to the sedentary life that we so painfully only just survived. 

I don’t know how to let go of this and return to the carefree existence I once had. In the history of our lives, the pandemic will only be one small portion but yet the effect that the two years has had on us, at least for now, has irrevocably changed who we are. Pretending that things are normal because we are caught up with our busy lives, in my opinion, fails to acknowledge and even honour the experience that we had. 

“Pretending that things are normal because we are caught up with our busy lives, in my opinion, fails to acknowledge and even honour the experience that we had”

It was awful and scary and terrible and heartbreaking. It was one of the hardest times of our lives. We have come out of this worst for wear and we will always look back on this period with grief for all that we lost. I’m not here to paint a silver lining, rather own the experience for what it was and carry the weight of it into the next phase of our lives. 

I don’t believe we will ever be the same. Maybe it’ll look somewhat the same and feel somewhat the same but for the time being, at least I will continue to feel like I am just getting away with it. And that’s okay.

So It’s Sabri, Now What? 0 407

Our bed’s been made, I guess we gotta find a way to lay in it 

Looks like our democracy has been disregarded for the time being and no amount of unrest from the citizens is going to make a difference. For most of us, this is our only home so it’s time to make the best of a bad situation and be clear about what we want from the people in power:

Parliament back in full session

If SOPs are in place and MPs are vaccinated, there is no reason for parliament not to reconvene. The voices of the people need to be heard and this is the only way we’ll be able to see that. 

Proper financial aid to the B40 community

Not just one-off handouts, but monthly financial aid to help those who have been struggling to put food on the table for the past year and a half. 

Restructuring of the Pandemic Recovery Plan 

Insanity is defined by doing the same thing and expecting different results – it’s time to rethink, relook and restructure our plan to get us out of this pandemic. It’s not about relying on the vaccines alone but holistically approaching the situation. 

#Undi18

Automatic registration of voters for those ages 18 and above for upcoming elections. 

Vaccinations for those in remote areas

Even though the vaccination rates have been tremendously high, it is clear that those living in the outskirts and the Orang Asli community have yet to receive their doses. 

Better support for our healthcare workers

Without our incredible healthcare workers, we would have seen many more fatalities in the country. They should be given full-time positions with the benefits that they deserve. 

Fair treatment of foreign workers

Foreign workers deserve to have safe working and living conditions that should be mandated under the law. 

Stopping the intimidation of activists 

Under a true democracy, activism, protests and the voices of the people must be heard. Activists should be allowed to speak on their views without fear of being investigated.

These are just some of the ways we want to see a positive change with the “new government”. Let’s hope that there will be some brighter days for us as Malaysians.

What are some changed you’d like to see?

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