Radiology technicians stage protest against draft bill

In October 2008, the All-Poland Trade Union of Radiotherapy Technicians and the All-Poland Trade Union of Electroradiology Technicians staged a joint protest outside of the Polish parliament. The protest coincided with the second reading of the draft bill on special privileges for healthcare centre employees, which proposes extending the working hours of radiology technicians.

Reasons for demonstration

On 14 Ocober 2008, the All-Poland Trade Union of Radiotherapy Technicians (Ogólnopolski Związek Zawodowy Techników Medycznych Radioterapii, OZZTMR) together with the All-Poland Trade Union of Electroradiology Technicians (Ogólnopolski Związek Zawodowy Techników Medycznych Elektrokardiologii, OZZTME) held a demonstration in front of the lower chamber of the Polish parliament (Sejm). The demonstration was held in protest against the draft bill on special privileges for healthcare centre employees, which would extend the working hours of radiology technicians from five to seven-and-a-half hours a day. Radiology technicians are also demanding pay rises, criticising the present remuneration structure of healthcare service employees as inadequate. They are requesting at least a twofold increase in their salaries. However, it should be added that the protesting medical technicians have no plans to stop work.

Dispute over working hours and health of radiologists

In their struggle to maintain their right to a five-hour working day, radiology technicians have pointed out that, according to EU Directive 97/43/Euratom on the health protection of individuals against the dangers of ionising radiation in relation to medical exposure, there are no ‘safe’ levels of absorbed ionising radiation. The harmfulness of radiology technicians’ work environment has also been confirmed by research published by the Central Register of Occupational Diseases at the Institute of Occupational Medicine (Instytut Medycyny Pracy, IMP). This research cites data showing that, in the past 10 years, 72 cases of occupational diseases have been diagnosed in people working with ionising radiation.

Government position

However, in support of the suggested changes, the government also cited the opinion of the IMP, which states that reduced working hours are neither an efficient nor an optimal way of preventing the negative impact of harmful working conditions. According to IMP recommendations, better results may be achieved if the employer complies with the Labour Code provisions, especially those regarding occupational safety and hygiene, while regularly monitoring the potential hazards of individual positions. In its statement, the government also quotes the opinions of the National Consultants for Clinical Oncology, Occupational Medicine, Oncological Radiotherapy and the Institute of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health (Instytut Medycyny Pracy i Zdrowia Środowiskowego, IMPiZŚ).Both institutions state that occupational safety and potential health consequences of occupational exposure do not justify reduced working hours.

The government’s position has gained the full support of the employer organisation, the Polish Confederation of Private Employers Lewiatan (Polska Konfederacja Pracodawców Prywatnych Lewiatan, PKPP Lewiatan).

Commentary

The government’s decision regarding extended working hours for radiology technicians seems to be final. However, notwithstanding the expert opinions cited by government representatives, the question arises as to why – in the context of the difficult financial situation of the health service – has one of its occupational groups enjoyed the privilege of shorter working hours for so long.

Another significant issue which not only relates to the discussion on radiology technicians’ working conditions, but which also has a considerable impact on the health of the Polish population concerns radiation therapeutic machines. According to radiotherapists, there should be one radiation therapeutic machine for every 250,000 people, whereas in Poland only one such machine exists for every 750,000 persons. This situation has caused problems for both radiotherapists and patients.

Piotr Sula, the Institute of Public Affairs (ISP)

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