Thousands of doctors in England to strike again as health likely to become a key UK election issue

Thousands of doctors in the early years of their careers in England are set to go on strike later this month for another five-day stretch as their long-standing pay dispute with the British government remains in stasis. (AP/File)
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Updated 09 February 2024
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Thousands of doctors in England to strike again as health likely to become a key UK election issue

  • The British Medical Association said on Friday that the government had “failed to meet the deadline to put an improved pay offer on the table”
  • The junior doctors have walked off the job on nine occasions over the past year and last month they went on strike for six days

LONDON: Thousands of doctors in the early years of their careers in England are to go on strike later this month for another five-day stretch as their long-standing pay dispute with the British government remains in stasis.
The British Medical Association, the union that represents the so-called junior doctors, said on Friday that the government had “failed to meet the deadline to put an improved pay offer on the table” and that they would go on strike from Feb. 24 to Feb. 28.
The junior doctors, who form the backbone of hospital and clinical care as they train up to be specialists in a particular field, have walked off the job on nine occasions over the past year and last month they went on strike for six days, the longest in the history of the state-funded National Health Service.
“We remain willing to carry on talking and to cancel the forthcoming strikes if significant progress is made and a credible offer is put forward,” the BMA’s junior doctors committee co-chairs Dr. Robert Laurenson and Dr. Vivek Trivedi said.
The union says newly qualified doctors earn 15.53 pounds ($19.37) an hour — the UK minimum wage is just over 10 pounds an hour — though salaries rise rapidly after the first year. The BMA has been asking for 35 percent “pay restoration” as its starting position but has said it is willing to negotiate.
The Conservative government has said it won’t negotiate unless the union calls off the strike.
“We already provided them with a pay increase of up to 10.3 percent and were prepared to go further,” said Health Secretary Victoria Atkins. “I ask the junior doctors’ committee to cancel their action and come back to the table to find a way forward for patients and our NHS.”
Senior doctors, known as consultants, and other medics have been drafted in to cover for emergency services, critical care and maternity services during the strikes. The consultants themselves are also in dispute with the government over their recent pay award but have yet to set any dates for any further strikes.
The upcoming strike means thousands more canceled appointments and operations, putting further pressure on the NHS to deal with a backlog that is likely to be a key issue in the general election later this year.
Britain has endured a year of rolling strikes across the health sector as staff sought pay rises to offset the soaring cost of living. Unions say wages, especially in the public sector, have fallen in real terms over the past decade, and double-digit inflation in late 2022 and early 2023, fueled by sharply rising food and energy prices, left many workers struggling to pay their bills.
Many groups within the NHS, such as nurses and ambulance crews, have reached pay deals with the government, but the union representing junior doctors has held out, and negotiations broke down late last year.
If it goes ahead, the strike would be the junior doctors’ last on the current mandate, which expires at the end of the month. Further strikes would require another vote among members which the BMA is currently undertaking.
The government is seeking to apportion many of the problems in the NHS on the junior doctors, while the main opposition Labour Party, which is way ahead in opinion polls, points the finger at Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for personally blocking progress.
“He bears responsibility for the canceled operations and appointments desperate patients will face once again,” said Wes Streeting, Labour’s health spokesman. “This can’t go on. Patients are desperate and staff are worn out.”


Russian attack on Ukraine’s Kharkiv kills two: rescuers

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Russian attack on Ukraine’s Kharkiv kills two: rescuers

KYIV: A Russian strike on a residential building in Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv killed two people and injured more than 50, rescuers said on Sunday, revising down a previous death toll.
Russia has stepped up attacks in the northeastern Kharkiv region after launching a new offensive there last month, seeking to break a largely static front line as the invasion grinds through its third year.
A five-story residential building was damaged when guided bombs hit Kharkiv city on Saturday, Ukrainian officials said, with the state emergency service announcing the completion of rescue work by Sunday morning.
“As a result of this aerial bomb strike, 2 people have been killed and 53 others were injured, including 3 children,” it wrote on Telegram.
President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday had announced three deaths and condemned Russia’s “calculated terror.”
An engineer wounded in a Russian strike on an energy facility in the southern Zaporizhzhia region died in hospital, regional governor Ivan Fedorov said on Sunday.


Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

Updated 23 June 2024
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Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

  • Locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol
  • Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally

BENGALURU, India: The death toll from a batch of toxic illegal alcohol in India has risen to 53, media reported Sunday, as more victims in hospital succumbed to the poisonous brew.
Tamil Nadu state Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has said the locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol on Tuesday.
More than 100 people were rushed to hospital, but some were too sick for medics to save.
Hundreds of people die every year in India from cheap alcohol made in backstreet distilleries, but this poisoning is one of the worst in recent years.
To increase its potency, the liquor is often spiked with methanol which can cause blindness, liver damage and death.
The Indian Express newspaper on Sunday quoted a local councilor, Palraj, describing how poor laborers in Kallakurichi district regularly bought the liquor in plastic bags costing 60 rupees ($0.70), which they would drink before work.
Some went blind and were rushed to hospital.
Others died rapidly, collapsing in the street.
“The men work just to drink, and the women run the family,” motorized rickshaw driver Shankar, who lives on a street where 23 people died, told the Indian Express.
M.S. Prasanth, the top government official in the state’s Kallakurichi district, said “53 people have passed away,” according to the latest figures on Saturday, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Other Indian media on Sunday put the toll as high as 55, but there was no immediate official confirmation.
Prasanth said that seven people had been arrested in connection with the “spurious liquor tragedy,” PTI added.
Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally.
The Indian Express also spoke to Kolanji, a domestic helper whose husband died on Thursday after drinking a packet of the tainted brew.
She said people drank the moonshine “because they cannot afford” alcohol from the government-run shops.
“They start buying packets early in the morning,” she said.
Selling and consuming liquor is prohibited in several other parts of India, further driving the thriving black market for potent and sometimes lethal backstreet moonshine.
Last year, poisonous alcohol killed at least 27 people in one sitting in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, while in 2022, at least 42 people died in Gujarat.


Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons

Updated 23 June 2024
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Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons

  • Russia’s 2020 nuclear doctrine sets out when its president would consider using a nuclear weapon

Moscow may change the timing for use of its nuclear weapons if threats against Russia increase, the RIA state news agency cited Andrei Kartapolov, the head of the Russian lower house’s defense committee, as saying on Sunday.
The former general’s comments follow recent warnings by President Vladimir Putin that Moscow may change its nuclear doctrine, which lays out the conditions in which such weapons could be used.
“If we see that the challenges and threats increase, it means that we can correct something in (the doctrine) regarding the timing of the use of nuclear weapons and the decision to make this use,” the agency quoted Kartapolov as saying.
“But of course, it’s too early to talk about specifics now.”
Russia’s 2020 nuclear doctrine sets out when its president would consider using a nuclear weapon: broadly as a response to an attack using nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or conventional weapons “when the very existence of the state is put under threat.”
Putin has also said Russia could test a nuclear weapon, if necessary, though he saw no need to do so at the present time.
The heightened rhetoric on nuclear weapons comes as both Russian and US diplomats say that Russia’s war in Ukraine, launched against its smaller neighbor in 2022, is in the most dangerous phase yet.


Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos

Updated 23 June 2024
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Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos

  • Philippine navy personnel and the Chinese coast guard had their latest clash last week in the disputed waterway
  • China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual shipborne commerce

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Sunday his country is not in the business of instigating wars and will always aim to settle disputes peacefully, amid escalating maritime confrontations with China.
“In defending the nation, we stay true to our Filipino nature that we would like to settle all these issues peacefully,” Marcos said in a speech to troops of the Western Command unit in charge of overseeing the South China Sea.
Philippine navy personnel and the Chinese coast guard had their latest clash last week in the disputed waterway, where the Philippine military said a Filipino sailor was severely injured and its vessels damaged.
“In the performance of our duties, we will not resort to the use of force or intimidation, or deliberately inflict injury or harm to anyone,” Marcos said.
He did not name China in his speech.
Beijing’s actions during a routine Philippine resupply mission have been condemned by the United States, Britain and Canada.
China’s foreign ministry disputed the Philippine account, with a spokesperson saying on Thursday that the necessary measures taken were lawful, professional and beyond reproach.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual shipborne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.


Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

Updated 23 June 2024
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Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

  • Swiss court dismissed charges of human trafficking against tycoon Prakash Hinduja, wife, son and daughter-in-law 
  • Forbes magazine has put Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion, family set up residence in Switzerland in 1980s

GENEVA: An Indian-born billionaire and three family members were sentenced to prison on Friday for exploiting domestic workers at their lakeside villa in Switzerland by seizing their passports, barring them from going out and making them work up to 18 hours a day.
A Swiss court dismissed more serious charges of human trafficking against 79-year-old tycoon Prakash Hinduja; his wife, Kamal; son Ajay and daughter-in-law Namrata on the grounds that the workers understood what they were getting into, at least in part. The four received between four and 4 1/2 years in prison.
The workers were mostly illiterate Indians who were paid not in Swiss francs but in Indian rupees, deposited in banks back home that they couldn’t access.
Lawyers representing the defendants said they would appeal.
Robert Assael, a lawyer for Kamal Hinduja, said he was “relieved” that the court threw out the trafficking charges but called the sentence excessive.
“The health of our clients is very poor, they are elderly people,” he said, explaining why the family was not in court. He said Hinduja’s 75-year-old wife was in intensive care and the family was with her.
A fifth defendant — Najib Ziazi, the family’s business manager — received an 18-month suspended sentence.
Last week, it emerged in court that the family had reached an undisclosed settlement with the plaintiffs. Swiss authorities have seized diamonds, rubies, a platinum necklace and other jewelry and assets in anticipation that they could be used to pay for legal fees and possible penalties.
Along with three brothers, Prakash Hinduja leads an industrial conglomerate in sectors including information technology, media, power, real estate and health care. Forbes magazine has put the Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion.
The family set up residence in Switzerland in the 1980s, and Hinduja was convicted in 2007 on similar charges. A separate tax case brought by Swiss authorities is pending against Hinduja, who obtained Swiss citizenship in 2000.
In this case, the court said the four were guilty of exploiting the workers and providing unauthorized employment, giving meager if any health benefits and paying wages that were less than one-tenth the pay for such jobs in Switzerland.
Prosecutors said workers described a “climate of fear” instituted by Kamal Hinduja. They were forced to work with little or no vacation time, and worked even later hours for receptions. They slept in the basement, sometimes on a mattress on the floor.