Physicians rally for better working conditions, hours

By Lii Wen  /  Staff reporter

Sun, Nov 09, 2014 - Page 3

Clad in white lab coats, several civic groups representing the rights of physicians and medical students demonstrated in front of the Ministry of Labor yesterday, demanding the inclusion of physicians in the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法).

The Medical Labor Conditions Reform Group, the main organizer of the demonstration, said many physicians and medical interns work more than 90 hours per week, which has led to several cases of overwork-related deaths and injuries in the past few years.

“Never again do I want to see another one of our senior physicians collapsed on the floor in an operating theater,” said Chen Yu-jen (陳宥任), a resident physician at Taipei Veteran’s General Hospital, with red paint splattered across his lab coat to symbolize the blood of overworked physicians.

Harsh working conditions for doctors could also take its toll on the quality of care provided for patients, with a higher risk of misdiagnosis or surgical accidents, Chen added.

The wife of Tsai Po-chiang (蔡伯羌), a former surgical resident at Chi Mei Hospital in Greater Tainan, said her husband, who often worked at the hospital for more than 30 hours straight, collapsed outside an operating theater five years ago.

He survived, but was unable to recognize his wife and children after regaining consciousness, and has since suffered further memory problems.

Medical interns also cope with long hours, working 10 shifts per week — ranging from 80 to 100 hours — while receiving a monthly allowance of just NT$12,000, National Cheng Kung University final-year medical student Liao Wei-hsiang (廖偉翔) said.

While physicians have been demanding protection from the Labor Standards Act for more than a decade, pushing to cap working hours at 84 per fortnight and stipulate government labor inspections, health authorities have been reluctant to comply, saying that if the act includes physicians, a shortage in professional medical services could occur.

Department of Labor Standards and Equal Employment Director-General Liu Chuan-min (劉傳名) said that although the ministry supports the physicians’ cause, according to assessments made by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, with only 1,300 medical students graduating each year, it could take three to 16 years before there are enough physicians to grant them shorter working hours.

Aside from physicians, a small number of other professions are not included in the Labor Standards Act, such as teachers at private institutions, athletes and household caretakers, making up less than 5 percent of employees nationwide.