Healthcare union demands higher wages despite economic crisis

Although wages increased in the healthcare sector in 2008–2009, the Slovak Trade Union Association of Healthcare and Social Services (SOZZaSS) renewed its demand for higher wages. According to SOZZaSS, wages in the sector are still too low. Nonetheless, the present economic situation threatens the unions’ wage demand, since current figures indicate significant losses to the state budget. It is thus unlikely that additional wage increases will be possible in the healthcare sector.

Recent wage increases

Despite criticisms of the protest by specialist doctors in May 2008, the President of the Slovak Union of Medical Specialists (Slovenská lekárska únia špecialistov, SLÚŠ), Andrej Janco, demanded a doubling of compulsory payments in the healthcare sector (SK0806019I). The Slovak Trade Union Association of Healthcare and Social Services (Slovenský odborový zväz zdravotníctva a sociálnych služieb, SOZZaSS), which represents about 30,000 employees, did not support the protest. Nonetheless, it informed the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) of the actual situation in the Slovak healthcare sector at that time.

Although the trade union protests did not have a direct impact on the wages of the protesting doctors, wages were increased: for example, in hospitals affiliated to the Association of Slovak Hospitals (Asociácia nemocníc Slovenska, ANS), wages were increased by 7% in June 2008, while wages at state university hospitals rose by 10% in February 2008. Under a multi-employer collective agreement concluded for public services for 2009 – which also covers healthcare workers – wages increased by 5% from 1 January 2009.

Trade unions continue to demand higher wages

A drop in production, wage freezes and dismissals are frequent company responses to the country’s economic crisis. Nonetheless, SOZZaSS renewed its demand for higher wages in the healthcare sector. According to the President of SOZZaSS, Anton Szalay, while the trade unions are aware of the economic crisis, they want to prevent healthcare workers from going abroad and are therefore demanding higher wages for them. The association has called for a 10% increase in the basic salaries of doctors and nurses, along with a 7% increase for non-medical workers in hospitals.

Available data indicate that a wage increase would require additional financial resources in the region of about €23 million. According to representatives of the ANS, which associates smaller hospitals, as well as the Association of Faculty Hospitals (Asociácia fakultných nemocníc, AFN), hospitals will not have sufficient resources for such increases. Requests for salary increases depend on the incomes of health insurance companies in the coming months. Health insurance companies concluded financial contracts with the hospitals for the period January to March 2009 of the same value as they did in the previous year. New contracts will not, however, increase the previous financial resources. The SOZZaSS president admitted that wage increases could take effect later in the course of 2009. According to the President of ANS, Marián Petko, in 2008 hospitals’ economic situation worsened in comparison with 2007, and hospitals do not have the resources for higher wages.

Commentary

Increasing unemployment reduces the total amount of compulsory contributions of employers and employees to health insurance funds. The Ministry of Finance (Ministerstvo financií Slovenskej republiky, MFSR) originally assumed that the incomes of health insurance companies in 2009 would be higher by about €0.5 billion more than the previous year. According to European Commission estimates announced in April 2009, Slovakia will also be hit by a recession in 2009, and instead of the 2.7% growth in gross domestic product (GDP) assumed in January, a 2.6% drop is expected. Due to the economic downturn and resulting decline in inputs to the state budget, on the one hand, along with higher state expenditure on the other hand, a 4.7% deficit of public finances is expected in 2009. According to the Director of the Institute for Economic and Social Reforms (Inštitút Ekonomické a Sociálne Reformy, INEKO), Eugen Jurzica, ‘less money will be available for pensions, education, healthcare and social system, and increasing pressures will emerge regarding higher taxation’ (article in SME newspaper, 5 May 2009). Meanwhile, the President of Medical Trade Union Association (Lekárske odborové združenie, LOZ), Marian Kollár, announced that the association is aware of the impacts of the economic crisis and will not, as a result, be demanding higher wages in 2009 (article in SME newspaper, 13 May 2009).

Ludovit Cziria, Institute for Labour and Family Research

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