Staff members of Hong Kong’s public hospitals are calling on authorities to set up policies against “rampant” workplace bullying, with 82 medical workers seeking a union’s help over the past two years.
The move fuelled more tensions in the sector, at a time when doctors and nurses are grappling with a manpower shortage at the peak of the flu season.
On Sunday, Dr Lam Kuen, chairwoman of the Hospital Authority Workers General Union, said the city’s public medical sector was going through its “darkest era” under the weight of the problems.
Just a day earlier, more than 100 public sector doctors had aired their grievances on manpower shortfall at a meeting with health minister Sophia Chan Siu-chee and Hospital Authority chief executive Dr Leung Pak-yin.
They [prefer to] keep their mouths shut or resign
Dr Lam Kuen, Hospital Authority Workers General Union
At a protest on Sunday held by about 40 people outside the authority’s headquarters, Lam, who was among the group, said on issues of bullying: “The management in hospitals are suppressing staff so they don’t dare to complain.
“The staff members don’t dare to say anything. They will either keep their mouths shut or resign.”
The union has about 200 members, including nurses, doctors and low-skilled workers.
A survey of 320 hospital staff conducted in December last year found that 99 per cent support the establishment of anti-bullying policies at work, and 96 per cent want the Hospital Authority to allow union representatives to be present at meetings that look into bullying.
Raine Chan Wing-yee, a patient care assistant at the eye division of Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital in Tai Po, said she was told by a superior that the way she looked at patients was not sincere enough.
“She told me that my eyes were not smiling and that I was not proactive in my work. She said she did not see fire in me when I’m on the job,” Chan, 30, a contract staff, said.
“In 2015, I submitted a form to apply to become a permanent staff the next year. My superior told me not to bother because she expected that I would not do my job well enough in the coming year.”
Chan added that in one meeting with her superior, she was told to count from one to 10 before asking any questions. But when Chan obeyed, she was asked why she took so long.
Leung Lam-chu, 55, a wheelchair pusher at Tung Wah Eastern Hospital, said she was bullied by senior colleagues for about two years.
She told me that my eyes were not smiling and that I was not proactive in my work. She said she did not see fire in me when I’m on the job
Raine Chan, contract staff
She was told that she did not get along well enough with other colleagues. She recalled how she was so upset on two occasions that she had fainted at meetings. But when she called in sick, her superior rejected the sick leave certificates from doctors.
Most of the 82 people who sought help from the union were low-skilled workers, while a few were nurses and doctors. No action had been taken against the accused bullies.
The Hospital Authority does not allow union representatives to accompany complainants at meetings after cases are lodged. If a colleague of the victim is present at such talks, that person is not allowed to give any opinion.
The union cited a case in which a complainant had to face six managerial personnel. This staff member was under so much pressure that she cried and even thought about jumping out of the windows, according to the group.
An authority spokesman said there were already channels in place for staff to express opinions about work. Under the complaint mechanism, a victim is allowed to invite a colleague to the meetings, he added.
The authority said it would continue to enhance communications with workers and meet union representatives regularly.