Nationwide protest action in public healthcare sector
In April 2006, a nationwide protest in the public healthcare sector took place in Poland. Prior to this, employee representative organisations had demanded an immediate pay rise of 30% for the sector’s employees. Although the Ministry of Health did not entirely reject those demands, it was not willing to grant the requested pay increase until the beginning of 2007. However, the unions were dissatisfied with the ministry’s decision and opted to proceed with a one-day protest on Friday 7 April.
Tensions in the Polish public healthcare system continue to escalate. On Friday 7 April 2006, also World Health Day, a national protest in the public healthcare sector was staged in Poland. The sector’s representative trade unions had previously demanded an immediate 30% pay rise for healthcare employees and an increase in state healthcare expenditure from 4% to 6% of gross domestic product (GDP). When negotiations between the employees and the Ministry of Health (Ministerstwo Zdrowia, MZ) ended in deadlock, the unions urged all members and supporters to put pressure on the government by taking a day off work in protest. Most physicians employed at public healthcare facilities and a substantial number of nurses heeded the unions’ request and asked for a day off, to be subtracted from their holidays. Those who had to report for work on 7 April, due to the nature of their professional responsibilities (such as ambulance and emergency room personnel), showed their solidarity with the protesters by displaying posters and flags around their workplaces. Several hundred union members from the Silesia region of south-western Poland travelled to Warsaw for a demonstration in front of parliament buildings. As part of the protest, all public hospitals and medical practices around the country failed to provide services, except for admitting emergency patients and attending to sick people requiring ongoing care.
Reaction by the Ministry of Health
Although the MZ was quite sympathetic to the employees’ requests, the protest intensified. Government officials maintained that the national budget for 2006 does not allow for the financial commitments demanded by public healthcare employees. Earlier this year, the Minister of Health, Zbigniew Religa, announced a considerable increase of about PLN 4 billion (just over €1 billion) for the 2007 healthcare budget, which will open the way for pay increases.
Unions dissatisfied with government response
The unions seemed unconvinced by the ministry’s arguments, and decided to forge ahead with their decision to call on employees to protest. The All-Polish Trade Union of Doctors (Ogólnopolski Zwiazek Zawodowy Lekarzy, OZZL) expressed its disappointment with the ministry’s offer. The main nurses’ organisation, the All-Polish Trade Union of Nurses and Midwives (Ogólnopolski Zwiazek Zawodowy Pielegniarek i Poloznych, OZZPiP), also insisted that the wage increase should be effective from 2006. President of the Polish Chamber of Physicians and Dentists (Naczelna Rada Lekarska, NRL), Konstanty Radziwill, stated in a Polish radio interview that physicians would no longer wait for pay increases and deemed it an unacceptable practice for doctors to have to work in several jobs to earn a decent income.
Despite further pressure from employees, government officials were adamant in claiming that no extra funding was available to meet the unions’ demands at present. Minister Religa once again acknowledged the demands of healthcare personnel and reiterated the offer to introduce a pay increase in 2007. However, the unions seemed unmoved by the minister’s declaration and have decided to continue the protest action in various ways until the matter is resolved.
Jan Czarzasty, Institute of Public Affairs and Warsaw School of Economics