Born in the central province
The GMOA was inaugurated on the 16th of October 1926 at a meeting held in Kandy, and attended by 16 medical officers. Initially the Association was known as the Government Medical Officers’ Association (Central Province) and confined its activities only to that Province, although Government Medical Officers of other Provinces were also eligible for membership. Amongst the list of objectives of the Association, which included the traditional ones pertaining to safeguarding the Rights and privileges of its members, one also finds a clause about “Promoting social intercourse” among members! The first President of the GMOA was Dr. H. Ludovici, the Joint Secretaries being Dr. S. L. Navaratnam and Dr. I. A. Senanayake. The initial membership fee was Rs. 5/- per year. Amongst the demands listed in the inaugural meeting one finds mention of salaries, quarters and travelling allowances the very same issues which concern the membership even 75 years later!
Renamed in 1927
In September 1927, the Association changed its name and scope, styling itself as the Government Medical Officers’ Association of Ceylon. The first Annual Dinner was held two months later, on I0th December 1927 and was a highly successful affair. In the formative years, the GMOA seems to have functioned more as a Social Club. evidence of militancy being conspicuous by its absence. (The country was under British rule at Interviews with the Directorate seem to have been formal affairs, months ahead, with the Agenda carefully drawn up, a far cry from today. Letters to and from the Department were couched in suitably prim and proper language.
Expansion of the Ex Co
In 1936, the Executive Committee was expanded to include 3 secretaries even today, despite a manifold increase in membership strength the number of assistant secretaries is 4. Also several posts of ex-officio vice presidents were created, all medical superintendents. Provincial Surgeons, Inspecting medical officers were eligible for this post. An year later, a demand for paying ward facilities for doctors was first made. This was ultimately granted in 1974 thirty seven years later. The Association appears to have gone into hibernation during the years 1939 to 1945, possibly due to the ban on activities during the war years.
First registration as a trade union
In 1945, a fresh start was made under Dr. E. M. Wijerama, the new president who was at tile helm for three years. Four years latter’ on 18th July 1949 the GMOA was first registered as a trade union, being assigned No. 291 under the registration of trade union ordinance.
In 1956, the GMOA posed its first major challenge to the government, under the presidency of Dr. Frank Fernando. A keen tussle ensued which ended only when the Prime Minister of the day Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike made a personal appearance at a GMOA meeting to announce a new allowance for all Medical Officers.
The GMOA from its inception has worked to improve the salaries and conditions of service of Government Medical Officers. Few months after the Association was formed, we see from the correspondence a letter addressed to Director, Medical & Sanitary Services of the day regarding the inadequacy of salaries and allowances of medical officers and problems relating to housing, and stagnation in the lower grades of the service. These representations to the administration are very much akin to the representations that we are making to the administration at this moment. The Association also aims to protect the rights and privileges of its members and this has become increasingly difficult with the passage of time owing to increased political involvement in the medical service, an example of which is the appointment of lay administrators in the health service.
First strike in the history
The water-shed in trade union work was reached in 1964 when the membership of the day overwhelmingly voted for the institution-of trade union action to increase salaries. This was tile first time that doctors in any part of the world had struck work. The action was successful and the Government awarded an increase in salaries and limited form of practice (Channel Practice). Since then, the Association has
resorted to trade union action as a last resort when negotiations have broken down and with lot of heart-searching as that ‘he interest of the patients are paramount in the minds of its members. We are glad to say that the need or such action has been used very sparingly considering the sometimes very obstinate stance taken by the administration.
The union has wielded the strike weapon both to win demands and to safeguard the position of an individual member, as the walkout staged by the Kandy doctors in support of one of its members, when he was attached by a member of the armed forces.
The GMOA has acted as a watchdog to prevent irregularities in appointments, transfers and the awarding of scholarships for further training, by the Administration. The GMOA has also played a mediatory role between the department and doctors who have fallen foul of the administration due to friction between officers serving in far flung posts and the local politicians. The GMOA has taken a concerned interest in the furtherance of development of the administrative structure of the Health Services and in the provision of post-graduate training facilities for junior hospital doctors. The Union has not been successful in. obtaining representation in the PGIM under whose auspices all post-graduate medical training in this country now takes place. This is a matter of profound regret to the Association and the PGIM loses by not having healthy dialogue with the junior members whom it seeks to serve.
Today the GMOA is a potent force, with a membership exceeding 16000. The 90 branch unions function effectively, both. at a local level and coordinating with the centre. What has been achieved up to now has been due to the dedication of the GMOA’s past members. Now the mantle has fallen on to the next generation of junior doctors to rally around the GMOA banner and ensure that our union will go from strength to strength.