The Slovenia Times

Doctors go on general strike

Health & MedicinePolitics
Doctors. Photo: Bor Slana/STA

Slovenian doctors and dentists went on general strike on 15 January after failing to make progress over their demands in talks with the government following a one-day token strike nearly a week ago.

The strike was called by Fides, the largest trade union of doctors and dentists in the country, which says the industrial action will go on until they suspend it or reach a pay deal with the government.

A key demand is addressing pay disparities created after salaries of young doctors were raised by five brackets and those of their most senior colleagues by two pay brackets in 2023.

No major disruption yet

Most hospitals reported that a majority of their medical staff were on strike, but the legal minimum of care prescribed during strike was provided, including for urgent cases, patients over 65 or under 18, pregnant women, and measures to prevent or manage communicable disease.

Some hospitals, like the one in Jesenice, said there were no cancellations of appointments on the first day of the strike, but are planning to cancel non-urgent appointments and surgeries going forward.

Most community health centres reported no major disruption or cancellations. "Doctors and dentists have worked as normal for the most part, patient appointments haven't been rescheduled and there have mostly been no cancellations," the Ljubljana Community Health Centre, the country's largest, said.

Doctors in most healthcare institutions held half-an-hour meetings to get briefed on talks with the government and to set out the reasons for the strike.

Talks resume, but with no progress

The talks continued but there was apparently no progress. Denis Kordež, a representative of the government negotiating team, declined to provide any details beyond saying that the government presented its positions and the talks would continue.

Meanwhile, Milenko Stanković, Fides vice-chairman, said the government was still not addressing their strike demands, urging it to start honouring its commitments.

"It's becoming increasingly clear the government is but throwing dust in the eyes of health workers, patients and the rest of the population, because it hasn't even begun to resolve strike demands," he said.

The union wants the government to honour its pledge set down in the Official Gazette in October 2022 to form a separate pay pillar for everyone working in healthcare.

Fides argues any delay in pay reform is accelerating the breakdown of public healthcare as health workers are leaving the system by the day.

The government has been insisting on resolving doctor pay issues as part of a broader public sector pay reform, which is still being negotiated and has been delayed after the massive August 2023 floods.

Mixed support among other unions

While other trade unions representing doctors and dentists as well as radiologists have expressed support for the strike, two unions representing nurses did not endorse it.

Monika Ažman, the head of the Nurses and Midwives Association, told TV Slovenija on 14 January that nurses in care homes, who work 24-hour shifts, received salaries that were two pay brackets below the minimum wage. "That is a cause to strike."

Meanwhile, the head of the Healthcare and Social Care Union, Irena Ilešič Čujovič, said that the situation in healthcare was alarming, but Fides's demands failed to address it. She said her union could also stage a strike if talks with the government did not proceed as required.

ZDUS, the union of pensioners' association, said they did not support the strike because it was only aimed at higher wages and not at resolving the situation in healthcare. It urged the government to act on that.

Doctors have staged strikes eleven times since Slovenia's independence; the longest one went on for 27 days in 2016, and an earlier one in 1996 lasted 23 days.

The latest strike comes just days after judges started a two-week go-slow due to the government's failure to raise their salaries to the same level as the salaries of top officials in the executive and legislative branches as requested by the Constitutional Court.


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