Morocco’s public health-care and education sectors facing worst crisis

Teachers have been waging protests and strikes to end renewable contracts in favour of permanent jobs that offer civil service benefits, including a better pension.
Sunday 05/05/2019
Doctors take part in a strike in Rabat. (Saad Guerraoui)
Serious grievances. Doctors take part in a strike in Rabat. (Saad Guerraoui)

CASABLANCA - Morocco’s public health-care and education sectors are going through serious crises amid the government’s inability to find a solution to repeated strikes.

Public sector doctors began a 1-week strike on April 29 because of what they said were deteriorating working conditions. Hundreds of doctors clad in black vests took to the streets of Rabat to protest Health Minister Anas Doukkali’s and the government’s ignoring their claims.

The government allocated $2.9 billion in the 2018-19 budget to the health-care sector, including $732 million for construction and equipment at the University Hospital Centres of Rabat, Tangier, Agadir, Marrakech and Oujda as well as the creation of 4,000 budgetary positions.

Moulay Abdellah el-Montadar Alaoui, secretary-general of the Independent Union of Public Sector Doctors, said nearly 1,000 doctors from across Morocco had resigned, pending ministry approval.

“It’s a week of ire against the government for its indifference towards our legitimate rights and demands,” said Alaoui. “We are simply asking the government to fulfil our demands to improve the degrading health-care sector but it is turning a deaf ear.”

Doctors have two main claims, a union statement said, including application of salary index 509 in the calculation of their wages and its equivalence to the state doctorate. The second is to improve working conditions with additional medical equipment in public hospitals.

Doukkali told the National Radio that the ministry would increase the number of positions assigned to doctors and paramedics to alleviate congestion at hospitals and health-care centres.

“This year was marked by records in terms of doctors recruited,” said Doukkali, adding that the number of resident and internal medical positions had been revised upward.

Last year, 308 out of 500 candidates showed up but they refused to be assigned to the various hospitals of the country in response to the ministry’s failure to respond positively to the doctors’ demands. Alaoui said about 50 doctors answered the ministry’s call. The rest withdrew because of unfavourable working conditions, particularly in southern Morocco.

The Health Ministry said it was committed to investing $1.7 billion in 80 projects, including new premises and university hospitals but experts said the move was not enough to solve chronic problems in the health-care sector. They argue that the public demand for doctors far exceeds the number of recruits, who cannot offset the deficit in hospitals.

Some public doctors switch to the private sector or emigrate to seek better situations in the West, exacerbating the crisis in Morocco. Approximately 8,000 Moroccan doctors work overseas, the Health Ministry said.

“We need between 10,000 and 11,000 doctors to offset the deficit in the public sector. Bringing doctors from other countries will not solve the problem because they also want favourable working conditions,” said Alaoui.

The public education sector is also going through a major crisis. Contracted teachers suspended a nationwide strike in response to appeals from several parties in Morocco after seven weeks of tension with the Education Ministry.

Teachers have been waging protests and strikes to end renewable contracts in favour of permanent jobs that offer civil service benefits, including a better pension. They wore black armbands as a sign of mourning for teachers’ dignity, a statement by the national coordination of teachers’ unions stated.

Education Minister Said Amzazi threatened to dismiss teachers unless they ended the strike, which has affected 7% of Morocco’s 7 million students.

Some 55,000 teachers out of a total of 240,000 have been hired on renewable contracts by regional education delegations since 2016 to address overcrowding in rural classrooms.

The Education Ministry announced April 13 the suspension of all the administrative and legal measures against senior teachers of the Regional Academies of Education and Training, adding that their salaries would also be paid.

Teachers insist on the need to respect commitments and speed up the organisation of the second round of dialogue.

Some opposition members of parliament called on the government to end the stalemate, which is likely to linger unless teachers’ demands are met.