Published: 01:46, February 7, 2020 | Updated: 08:13, June 6, 2023
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Medical employees who strike during virus crisis should pay the price
By Tony Kwok

Can you imagine that a medical doctor and a nurse who were on duty the other day at an intensive care ward would suddenly choose to be absent from duty the next day to join a union strike! This is totally unheard-of in any medical profession anywhere. I am struggling with the fact that we have such self-centered people now serving in one of the most critical sectors of our public service where self-sacrifice for the public good is considered part of the daily routine. And I feel equally sad for my former colleagues in the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s Community Relations Department, who have obviously failed in their mission to promote integrity among these youngsters and a code of ethics among these professionals.

But of course, they do not represent the majority of our medical staff. The vice-president of the Hong Kong Medical Association, Dr David Lam Tzit-yuen, stated categorically in a media interview that while medical professionals are entitled to stage industrial action, the bottom line is that it must not affect any patient’s well-being.

Before medical personnel launch any strike action, they must ask themselves the obvious questions: How would it impact their already-overworked colleagues who chose to hold the fort at this critical juncture when our community is under the threat of a coronavirus, and how would it affect the treatment of patients by an understaffed medical service? The answers are just as obvious.

They must also ask themselves if they are prepared to face up to the likelihood of one of the patients they had been looking after passing away from lack of timely treatment — a distinct possibility, given that the current full complement of staff is no longer adequate for most public hospitals despite the long hours put in by many doctors and nurses. Cancer patients and those requiring periodical chemotherapy are particularly vulnerable as delayed treatment can trigger accelerated deterioration of their condition. Overworked colleagues might collapse from having to take on the additional workload of the striking nurses and doctors. In the worst-case scenario, how are they going to face the families of patients who died because of their absence? Under the circumstances, it is quite possible that the deceased’s family members might lodge a civil suit against those medical personnel who were on strike instead of manning their respective posts. In short, those medical employees contemplating a strike action should think through the price they may have to pay and the collateral damage that may ensue. And, oh yes, it would also leave a blemish on their CVs, not to mention that it may torment their consciences for the rest of their lives.

Clearly the purpose of the strike, to close all borders with the mainland, is not to protect Hong Kong, but instead is politically motivated to instill fear and hatred among Hong Kong people against mainlanders and the central government

However, I believe most of these people are simply naive and are being manipulated by the unscrupulous strike organizers. The union initiating this strike — the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance — was formed in December in support of the street violence and wanton destruction of property by the so-called blackshirts. It’s worth noting that the union’s black hand is the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions of the Labour Party, an anti-China political group, and found to have received secret donations of at least HK$1.5 million (US$193,000) from Lai Chee-ying of Apple Daily, and allegedly a total of HK$13 million over the years from the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, a subsidiary of the US National Endowment for Democracy, an organization now sanctioned by China for promoting subversive activities against China. At the news conference announcing the strike, the president of the HKCTU was seen sitting at the head table.

Clearly the purpose of the strike, to close all borders with the mainland, is not to protect Hong Kong, but instead is politically motivated to instill fear and hatred among Hong Kong people against mainlanders and the central government, which dovetails with the nefarious objectives of the rioters, who have ravaged Hong Kong over the last eight months. Their justification for a complete closure of all border checkpoints does not stand the slightest scrutiny. Have they ever considered the 9,000 truck drivers who bring in essential foodstuffs and other necessities daily from the mainland?

It should be noted that Macao did not close its border with the mainland, and yet nobody from their medical-staff union has ever considered a strike. Hong Kong used to claim superiority in the standard of its civil service over Macao, but clearly, the calm and coordinated manner that Macao displayed in tackling this virus hysteria efficiently has put us on the back foot.

The strike organizers clearly enjoy substantial support from questionable sources. Even before the announcement of the strike, thousands of nicely designed pamphlets promoting their cause were ready for distribution. One must ask: Where does the money come from for this and other related strike activities? It should be pointed out that as staff of the Hospital Authority, they are “public servants” within the definition in the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance, which means it would be an offense for any one of them to receive donations or any advantages from anyone without official permission. This is a serious offense and carries a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment. Furthermore, intentionally neglecting their post can possibly be in breach of the common-law offense of “misconduct in public office”. The ICAC should proactively investigate whether the organizers and those on strike have committed any of these serious criminal offenses and initiate enforcement action as necessary.

The Hospital Authority should learn from the Singapore experience in taking a hard-line approach to unwarranted union strikes. When the Singapore Airlines staff members threatened to strike some years ago, they were given an ultimatum by then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew that they would all be dismissed if they did not call off the strike within two hours. The strike was promptly called off.

This strike is clearly without merit and has nothing to do with protecting the interest of labor, much less enhancing the health protection of our residents and visitors. It is clearly politically motivated and an attempt at exploiting a weak government overstretched by multiple crises at its doorstep. Allowing the strike to succeed would set a dangerous precedent, leaving the government at the mercy of civil service unions. They would be tempted to strike anytime in the future for anything, as has happened to a number of governments elsewhere paralyzed by arbitrary union demands. The Hospital Authority should promptly issue a stern warning letter, giving them a one-day notice to call off the strike, or they will be subject to severe disciplinary action, including dismissal.

The author is an adviser with Our Hong Kong Foundation and a council member of the Chinese Society of Hong Kong and Macao Studies. He is also an international anti-corruption consultant and a former deputy commissioner of the ICAC.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.