Higher salaries for nurses at risk

In February 2012, the Slovakian Parliament adopted a law which increased the minimum salaries of nurses and midwives. But serious problems emerged during its implementation. First, there were disagreements over the rewarding of nurses for the number of years spent in the profession, but more serious was the lack of money to pay the higher salaries. Although additional funds were found, the Constitutional Court decided the implementation of the Act should be suspended.

New minimum wage set for nurses and midwives

In 2011, nurses and midwives campaigned for an increase in their salaries (SK1105029I) leading to new pay scales being agreed by the Government. In February 2012, the Slovakian Parliament adopted the Act on minimum wage claims for nurses and midwives – the minimum monthly rates being increased by either €66 or €33, depending on the job position.

The act was prepared by the Ministry of Health Care (MZ SR) in cooperation with the Chamber of Nurses and Midwives (SKSaPA), whose recommendations were incorporated into the Act. Nurses were pleased with the outcome, and the tense situation in the health care sector seemed stabilised.

However, some difficulties about how the agreement would be implemented seemed to have escaped the attention of both the proposers of the new Act and Parliament.

Parents miss out

After 1 April 2012, according to the Act, the salaries of the nurses and midwives were to go up depending on the number of recognised years they had spent in the profession. But this led to dissatisfaction among some nurses since maternity leave absence was not counted.

If a nurse or midwife who had been working in the sector for 15 years, for example, had been on maternity leave for six years, only nine years of practice would count towards their minimum salary calculation. This would give a minimum salary of €718.40 under the Act, whereas if the years spent on maternity leave were to count, the salary would be €770.70.

The President of the SKSaPA, Mária Lévyová, admitted this was an issue but said that there had been little time for the preparation of the Act and a compromise had been adopted.

Lack of funding for higher salaries

The minimum salaries of nurses and midwives set by the Act ranged from €640 to €928. In March 2012, representatives of the physicians’ sector announced that the health care institutions would probably not have enough resources to fund the salary increases.

The President of the Association of Private Physicians (ASL), Ladislav Pásztor, maintained that only about 25% of medical polyclinics would be able to afford to increase the salaries in accordance with the law. According to Lévyová, the physicians had responded by shortening the working hours of nurses and midwives, or reassigned them to other less well-paid activities such as administrative tasks.

According to the Trade Union Association of Nurses and Midwives (OZSaPA) around 7,000 nurses had been reassigned to administrative work and 200 had ended up unemployed at labour offices.

The General Health Insurance Company (VŠZP) and the MZ SR are working to address the lack of funding in the health care sector. The MZ SR has promised to provide €50 million from its reserve to increase salaries in the sector during the second half of 2012.

Operation of the Act temporarily suspended

In March 2012, the Slovak Chamber of Physicians (SLK) asked the Attorney General to file a motion demanding an investigation by the Constitutional Court. The SLK wanted to know whether the Act on the salaries of nurses and midwives complied with the Constitution of the Slovak Republic, and called for a temporary halt to its implementation.

According to the SLK, salaries of other health care workers should also be increased. At the same time, it said the lack of resources in the sector meant the agreed salary increase could not be paid.

The Attorney General filed the motion on 25 June 2012, and on 11 July 2012, the Constitutional Court temporarily suspended the operation of the Act, arguing that it did not address the salary levels of all health care employees, and that there was no money to fund the increases.

According to the President of OZSaPA, Viliam Záborský, trade unions were outraged at the decision. Disappointment was also expressed by the SKSaPA, and nurses are preparing protests.

The first protest meeting took place in front of the Slovak Parliament on 25 July 2012.

Ludovit Cziria, Institute for Labour and Family Research

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