Specialist doctors organise protest against low income

The Slovak Union of Medical Specialists appealed to doctors to participate in a joint industrial action day in May 2008, in order to show their dissatisfaction with salary levels. However, the biggest trade union organisation in the healthcare sector did not support the action, although it did inform the European Economic and Social Committee about the situation in the Slovakian healthcare sector. The Ministry of Health rejected both actions, considering them as unfounded.

Protest of specialist doctors

In recent years, healthcare workers in Slovakia have organised several industrial actions in protest against the low wage level in the sector (SK0605029I, SK0705039I). On 30 May 2008, the President of the Slovak Union of Medical Specialists (Slovenská lekárska únia špecialistov, SLÚŠ), Andrej Janco, appealed to all healthcare workers to organise, as a joint protest action, a ‘Health day of healthcare workers’. With this action day, they would show their dissatisfaction with their current income levels.

According to the president of SLÚŠ, specialist doctors are demanding that all compulsory payments in the healthcare sector should be doubled. This demand is based on the fact that healthcare workers contributed to the rapid growth of the Slovakian economy over the past years and should therefore obtain a fair share of this profit. Mr Janco advised the doctors in private ambulances to be absent from work for a whole day, while recommending doctors in state-owned healthcare facilities to interrupt their work for at least one hour on the action day. According to the trade union president, it represented one of the last opportunities for the doctors to claim higher wages; if they did not take advantage of this action day, they would enter the eurozone in 2009 with monthly wages between €300 and €600.

Government regrets union call for protest action

The Ministry of Health (Ministerstvo zdravotníctva Slovenskej republiky, MZ SR) expressed its regret regarding the initiative of the SLÚŠ president. The ministry expected that the majority of healthcare workers would consider all aspects of such industrial action, including its impact on patients’ health. According to the ministry, no objective reason exists for such a joint protest action.

The Chair of the Slovak Trade Unions of Healthcare and Social Welfare (Slovenský odborový zväz zdravotníctva a sociálnych služieb, SOZ ZaSS), Anton Szalay, informed the sector’s stakeholders that the appeal of the SLÚŠ president was not supported by SOZ ZaSS, which represents about 30,000 employees in the sector and is thus the largest trade union in healthcare. According to Mr Szalay, SOZ ZaSS was not informed in advance about the initiative of SLÚŠ, which represents about 600 doctors (Daily SME, ‘Zdravotníkom už došla trpezlivosť, 28 May 2008).

Trade unionists protest in Brussels

Although SOZ ZaSS did not support the protest action of specialist doctors, the trade union expressed its dissatisfaction in Brussels on 29 May 2008. Trade union representatives informed the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) about the current situation in the Slovakian healthcare sector. According to SOZ ZaSS, healthcare workers in hospitals managed by regional governments earn less than those in state-owned university hospitals. The trade union considers that such wage differences lead to discrimination between healthcare workers.

MZ SR rejected this SOZ ZaSS initiative as well, since it believed that the decision of trade union officials to disclose an internal problem at the EESC was unreasonable.

Commentary

Despite these reservations against the protest of the specialist doctors, the industrial action took place on 30 May 2008. According to information available, not all specialist doctors participated in the protest, with some of them supporting the action only morally. However, according to the president of SLÚŠ, the protest was successful and even more doctors than originally expected participated in the action.

The protests of healthcare workers imply that, despite several changes in the sector, the current employment conditions of healthcare workers are not satisfactory. Although average monthly wages in the healthcare and social services sector, amounting to SKK 17,741 (€586 as at 4 July 2008) in the first quarter of 2008, are still below the national average at SKK 20,442 (€675), the monthly salaries of doctors, including overtime pay, are much higher. Nevertheless, Slovakian doctors increasingly compare their salaries with those of their counterparts in the EU15 countries, which are several times higher. Although the resignation of Health Minister Ivan Valentovič on 3 June 2008 was not directly linked to the recent industrial action in the sector, it underlined the sector’s rather contentious situation at present.

Ludovít Cziria, Institute for Labour and Family Research

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