New government makes headway with unions in talks on healthcare pay

Following a change of government in December 2007, the trade unions started negotiations with the new government on the unresolved issue of healthcare workers’ pay and on efforts to strengthen social dialogue. The social partners have since reached agreement on general issues of healthcare workers’ pay and signed a sectoral agreement. Meanwhile, the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia is lobbying for a referendum on amendments to Latvia’s Constitution.

Following the resignation of Latvia’s government in December 2007, the trade unions were quick to remind the new government ministers about their demands. In contrast to the previous administration, the new ministers have been listening to the trade unions’ demands and agreements have been reached in the healthcare sector and in relation to social dialogue.

Agreement on pay issue

The Latvian Health and Social Care Workers’ Trade Union (Latvijas Veselības un sociālās aprūpes darbinieku arodbiedrība, LVSADA), which filed a legal suit against the state in 2007 (LV0712019I), met with the new Minister for Health, Ivars Eglītis, immediately after his appointment. Among the issues discussed were the old and new methods of wage calculation: the old method envisages that healthcare workers’ wages are calculated on the basis of national average wage forecasts, while the new method seeks to calculate wages on the basis of actual increases in the national average wage. A discrepancy has arisen because the actual increase is larger than the increase forecast. The talks resulted in an agreement on medical workers’ pay, with which the trade unions were satisfied. One of the terms of the agreement is that the trade union will withdraw its lawsuit against the state if the latter fulfils three conditions:

  • firstly, the state must compensate the difference in wages calculated using the old and new method that was not paid in 2007;
  • secondly, the agreement between state and trade union must be confirmed in writing with mutually binding guarantees;
  • thirdly, the state must take into consideration problems in the method for calculating wages – namely, the non-alignment of actual data and forecast data used in the calculations – and compensate the pay reductions experienced by healthcare workers due to these problems.

General principles of cooperation

The leaders of LVSADA met Minister Eglītis once again at the end of January 2008. Their talks focused on general principles of cooperation, more specifically: healthcare workers’ pay, improving the working environment, working conditions for employees of the Disaster Medicine Centre (Katastrofu Medicīnas Centrs, KMC) and Emergency Medical Service (Neatliekamās medicīniskās palīdzības dienests), and the shortage of healthcare workers. The talks between the healthcare workers’ union and the minister resulted in a compromise on healthcare workers’ pay and an agreement that healthcare workers would not hold protests or pickets.

On 5 February 2007, the Minister of Welfare, Iveta Purne, signed a general agreement between the Ministry of Welfare (Labklājības ministrija, LM), LVSADA, the Latvian Trade Union of Employees of State Institutions, Self-governments and the Finance Sector (Latvijas Valsts iestāžu, pašvaldību, uzņēmumu un finanšu darbinieku arodbiedrība, LVPUFDA) and the Latvian Nursing and Healthcare Personnel Trade Union (Latvijas Ārstniecības un aprūpes darbinieku arodsavienība, LĀADA). The general agreement specifically regulates employees’ work and rest periods, wages, the improvement of employees’ qualifications, social guarantees for employees, and provisions for the work of trade unions and for consultations between unions and the LM. Moreover, the medical and social care workers employed at the institutions that have signed the general agreement will have their working hours reduced (38.5 or 35 hours a week); longer rest periods will also apply, including additional leave of no less than three or five workdays.

LBAS seeks to strengthen social dialogue

For its part, the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia (Latvijas Brīvo Arodbiedrību Savienība, LBAS) has resumed talks with the government on the issue of strengthening social dialogue. In order to develop a clearer outline of the areas of cooperation between the social partners at national level, and to directly obtain information about the new government’s priorities, the leaders of LBAS and trade union representatives met with Latvia’s new Prime Minister, Ivars Godmanis.

A campaign to gather signatures was concluded at the end of 2007 and, on 1 February 2008, LBAS submitted the signatures of some 11,185 Latvian citizens to the Central Election Commission (Centrālā vēlēšanu komisija, CVK). The signatures are in favour of a referendum being held on amendments to Latvia’s Constitution, as proposed by LBAS (LV0710029I). The number of signatures is sufficient to begin procedures to amend the Constitution.

General agreement in healthcare

The interests of healthcare workers are defended by a number of trade unions, which sometimes work together and other times work separately. The unions make demands in two main areas – in relation to the amount of wages and calculation methodologies used, and with respect to general agreements. The first general agreement between the LM and healthcare trade unions was concluded in 2006. The new general agreement applies to social care and rehabilitation institutions under the LM in which workers’ organisations have been established.

Commentary

The positive attitude of the new government can be explained by the fact that it was trade union action which brought down the previous administration. However, the fact that the government has not earmarked funds for a referendum on constitutional amendments – support for which is affirmed by the successful signature campaign – may mean that the government still does not fully appreciate the trade unions’ potential influence over social processes.

Raita Karnite, Institute of Economics, Latvian Academy of Sciences

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