First sectoral agreement signed for hospital doctors

After lengthy negotiations, the Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity and the Federation of Unions of Hospital Doctors in Greece have concluded the first industry-wide collective agreement covering about 16,000 doctors in the country’s public hospitals. The agreement regulates elements of working hours, pay and the hiring of medical personnel in public hospitals. In line with labour law, the agreement covers all hospital doctors, not only those who are members of trade unions.

The Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity (Υπουργείο Υγείας και Κοινωνικής Αλληλεγγύης) and the Federation of Unions of Hospital Doctors in Greece (Ομοσπονδία Ενώσεων Νοσοκομειακών Γιατρών Ελλάδας, OENGE) have finally concluded the first industry-wide collective agreement in the public health sector after a period of lengthy negotiations lasting about two years. The new agreement regulates issues relating to working hours, wages and the recruitment of medical personnel in Greece’s public hospitals.

Content of agreement

Pay increases

According to the agreement, the monthly wages of hospital doctors at all levels of the salary scale have increased by €210–€420, with effect from 1 January 2009. More specifically, a resident doctor – which is the lowest level of the pay scale – will receive a monthly wage rise of €210 from the previous level of €842 as at 31 December 2008. A Level II consultant will receive a wage rise of €300 – from €1,203 as at 31 December. A Level I consultant will see their monthly wages increase by €360 – from €1,444 as at 31 December. Finally, a director’s wage will rise by €420 – up from €1,684 as at 31 December. These increases in basic pay were among the main demands put forward by OENGE.

Maximum working time

In addition, the agreement ensures the application of the Community and National Law on the maximum permitted working hours. In particular, the morning continuous working hours of doctors working in public hospitals will be reduced from eight hours to seven hours, whereas the typical working week will stretch over five days, Monday to Friday. Following each on-call service, a doctor will be entitled to 24 hours of rest on a working day.

Provision of more jobs

Finally, the agreement provides for the recruitment of another 2,000 doctors in public hospitals within the first six months of 2009. This is in addition to those positions that have already been announced or the expected vacancies arising due to the retirement of some medical personnel in public hospitals. The aim of these new posts is to remedy the significant lack of specialised medical personnel in the Hellenic National Health System (Εθνικό Σύστημα Υγείας, ESY). Overall, some 1,500 of these positions will be allocated to Level II consultants.

Duration of agreement

The industry-wide collective agreement will remain in effect for one year, from 1 January to 31 December 2009, whereas negotiations for the preparation of the following agreement are expected to start on 15 October 2009.

Reactions of social partners

According to the Minister of Health and Social Solidarity, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the conclusion of the collective agreement with the hospital doctors is the most important reform since the setting up of the National Health System in the 1980s. He added that the conclusion of the industry-wide agreement was the result of sincere and systematic dialogue with the authorised representatives of hospital doctors.

The Chair of OENGE, Stathis Tsoukalos, believes that the agreement represents a major change in the structure of the National Health System. He also maintains that the agreement opens up new paths for a new, improved and upgraded health system. However, according to OENGE, the conclusion of the collective agreement will not automatically change the harsh reality of public healthcare in Greece. Thus, it is necessary to ensure long-term intervention relating to the provision of funds, the improvement of infrastructure and services, and meeting the need for human resources in all disciplines.

Although they agree with the conclusion of the industry-wide agreement, doctors serving as directors in public hospitals expressed some reservations. According to them, the regulations relating to the promotion of doctors to the highest ranking will increase the number of directors from the current 2,015 to 8,000 directors in the next two years. This means that over 50% of medical personnel in the National Health System will be directors in state hospitals.

Commentary

Τhe conclusion of the first industry-wide collective agreement for hospital doctors is a positive step towards the expansion of social dialogue in the public management sector. The quality of social dialogue in the latter is inferior to that of the private sector due to the refusal of the state, as an employer, to negotiate, and the lack of improvement of various issues pertaining to the working conditions of doctors working in public hospitals. Nevertheless, improvements in the overall working conditions in public hospitals and in public healthcare should still be sought. Some old problems still remain, however, such as the funding of the National Health System, a lack of personnel in all areas of healthcare, as well as a lack of infrastructure in buildings and equipment.

Stathis Tikos, Labour Institute of Greek General Confederation of Labour (INE/GSEE)

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