RAPPLER

The Cruel Hypocrisy Of How Poorly We Treat Healthcare Workers

Essential? That's what Italy has labeled healthcare workers, but, like many of their peers around the world, they are receiving subordinate treatment, low wages and no protection from state or employers.

A healthcare worker collecting swab samples in Naples
A healthcare worker collecting swab samples in Naples
Alessio Perrone

MILAN — Unlike many of us, Paolo's work routine has changed little in 2020. He wakes up before the first light of day in Northern Italy, takes the train to Milan, then the underground, then several buses as he visits a dozen elderly patients in their homes in the city's nearby suburbs.

But since the pandemic started, he's heard he is an "essential worker" and at high risk of becoming infected, as happened to many of his colleagues, but he has never been tested by his employer for the coronavirus. Even as the second wave of the pandemic batters Italy, Paolo only receives a handful of standard face masks a day — no gloves, visors, or higher-protection masks – and an €880 monthly paycheck.

Paolo's situation, as reported by Italian weekly L'Espresso on condition of anonymity for fears he would face retribution in the workplace, illustrates the hypocrisy of how an incalculable number of health workers are treated around the world. On the one hand, they have been called "heroes' and "essential." On the other, they lack the basic PPE to provide their best care safely, and their work is often underpaid and undervalued.

Like Paolo, more than 400,000 workers work little paid, high-risk health jobs with few guarantees or rights in Italy. They are nurses, but also assisted facility health workers, cleaners, home health workers. Some admit that they even avoid alerting their GP that they've come into contact with someone who tested positive because they fear they would lose their job – a decision that potentially puts their own patients at risk.

Their work is often underpaid and undervalued.

But the problem is widespread and persistent well beyond Italy. In the UK, a million health workers were paid less than the country's living wage while also being four times more likely to be on a zero-hours contract, according to a recent study. In the US, another study found that nearly 20% of care workers — including home health and personal care workers — live in poverty, while more than 40% rely on some form of public assistance. In the Philippines, nurses can make as little as $160 per month, forcing many to try their luck in Europe instead.

Many governments, including in France and Germany, have given bonuses to health workers during this global crisis. But few have tried to address the inherent structural problems the workers face. They are pushed into second-class jobs and zero-hours, zero-guarantee contracts, while the Western population ages and health care services become more starved of resources and enticed by cost-cutting operations.

An egregious example came from Bergamo, the city that first showed the world the horrors caused by the uncontrolled spread of the virus. Here, many doctors and nurses employed by public hospitals received a bonus for their effort in fighting the pandemic. But many of those privately employed in care homes and personal care jobs faced more responsibility, higher risk, and little recognition for their contribution. Like Paolo, in the face of regular risk of exposure to the deadly virus, their monthly pay stayed fixed at €800.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.


The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.

-------------------------------------------------------------

David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ