Health care workers protest

The Slovak Union of Medical Specialists held a day of protest on 9 March 2011 when doctors stopped working for one hour in protest against the poor financial situation in the healthcare sector. In May, the Trade Union of Physicians joined the protest, too. In order to push through its wage demands it advised members to give notice of their intention to quit en masse. This tactic was used successfully by doctors in the Czech Republic, where they achieved a significant wage increase.

Physicians call a day of protest

The Slovak Union of Medical Specialists (SLÚŠ) held a symbolic one-hour strike on 9 March 2011 in protest at low wages and the state of the Slovak health service.

SLÚŠ President Andrej Janco said the union wanted to initiate talks on how to improve healthcare and increase wages for health sector workers. The protest was supported by the Slovak Medical Chamber (SLK).

On the day of protest healthcare workers in several hospitals closed their surgeries or carried out administration tasks only between 1pm and 2pm. Patient health was not put in danger.

SLÚŠ has criticised health insurance agencies, some of which have started terminating contracts with private doctors due to the difficult financial situation, worsening the provision of healthcare to patients.

Trade union and government reaction

SLÚŠ and SLK have criticised the government for its reluctance to solve problems in the sector, such as non-payment for some interventions, poor infrastructure and inadequate wages. They have also asked parliament to look at why the health insurance agencies are in debt and asked the government to increase its contributions to them.

Health Minister Ivan Uhliarik respects the right of medical staff to better pay and working conditions but says reform is needed in the sector and these problems cannot be solved quickly. (Aktuá, 9 March 2011, Ďakujeme, na hodinu zatvárame, odkázali lekári).

Union recommends mass walk-out

In May, the Medical Trade Unions Association (LOZ) said negotiations on improving the situation in the healthcare sector had so far not brought any results, and it recommended its members follow the example of a recent protest action in the Czech Republic (CZ1101019I; CZ1102019I).

There around 3,800 physicians handed in their notice. The outflow of such a number of doctors would pose a serious threat to the provision of healthcare in the Czech Republic. By doing this, the Czech doctors’ trade union negotiated a substantial increase in salaries with the government.

According to the Chair of LOZ, Michal Polician, Slovak trade unions will use the experience of their Czech colleagues, and the union has contacted legal agencies to help its members prepare mass notices.

The trade unionists have indicated that they are willing to negotiate with the Health Minister as well as with Prime Minister Iveta Radičová. However, according to the Government Office, it is not possible to increase doctors’ salaries significantly when the salaries of civil servants are being reduced by 10%. The Ministry of Health Care (MZ) considers the actions of trade unions unethical and inappropriate.

The trade union initiative is a risk for doctors and hasn’t gained broad support, so far. Yet the President of SLK, Milan Dragula, and the President of the Slovak Trade Union Association of Health Care and Social Welfare (SOZ ZaSS), Anton Szalay, believe the campaign could still go ahead in Slovakia. (SME Newspaper, 7 May 2011, Lekári plánujú výpovede).

Nurses joined the protests

In mid-February the Chamber of Nurses and Midwives (SKSAPA), which represents about 20,000 workers, launched a petition to improve their working conditions and pay. An earlier retirement age of 58 instead of 62 years of age and a minimum hourly wage of €4.50 were the most important demands stated in the petition.

On 17 May, nurses from all over Slovakia arrived in Bratislava and a delegation submitted a petition with almost 245,000 supporting signatures to parliament. Nurses handed it over to the President of Parliament Richard Sulík, and told members of parliament’s Health Committee of their demands. According to the President of the Committee, Viliam Novotný, the biggest hurdle is the increase in hourly wages and earlier retirement age. Parliament planned to address the petition at its June session.

To support their demands, about 500 nurses protested in front of parliament. Nurses at work also supported the protest at that time, by wearing a token black uniform instead of the usual white one. (See article on SKSAPA website, 18 May 2011, Sestry sa na protest obliekli do čiernej). On 8 June, the government acknowledged the nurses’ petition and adopted a government decree (in Slovak) to deal with their demands.

Ludovít Cziria, Institute for Labour and Family Research

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