The Slovenia Times

Mediation to end doctors strike fails

Health & MedicinePolitics
Representatives of the Fides trade union of doctors and dentists. Photo: Bor Slana/STA

Mediation meant to break the impasse in talks between the government and the trade union of doctors and dentists who have been on strike for almost three months now has failed to produce a result.

The two sides issued a joint statement on 9 April saying they were unable to agree on strike demands despite "great effort of the mediators and negotiators, their striving for a solution and truthful exchange of views".

Still, the government and Fides, the doctors and dentists' trade union, committed to continue talks.

Doctors have been on strike since 15 January, demanding a separate pay system within the public sector, a career path for doctors and higher pay for senior doctors.

The government has been insisting on resolving doctors' pay demands in the framework of public sector-wide negotiations and narrower talks on the pay pillar for all healthcare staff. It has also been insisting that any pay rises take effect next year, which is too late for Fides.

These differences proved to be insurmountable in the attempt at mediation, led by the Bar Association. Since the process was launched two weeks ago, the sides met for five sessions that went on for 24 hours in total, according to the Health Ministry.

Fides' head Damjan Polh told reporters that the union had made an effort but government proposals remained the same as at the beginning of what has turned into the longest doctors' strike in the country's history.

The failed mediation attempt is quite a disappointment for the union, he said after he opened his statement with "a moment of silence for public healthcare".

He lauded the efforts of the Bar Association but remained critical of Prime Minister Robert Golob, who he believes lacked confidence in the mediation process from the get-go.

Speaking for the government, Health Ministry State Secretary Denis Korde┼ż said the gap between Fides's strike demands and the means at the government's disposal was too wide to come to an agreement.

The government's position has been the same throughout, he said, that is that all public sector employees need to be taken care of and that any partial pay deals could jeopardise talks with public sector trade unions.

He would not go into details of the mediation process, but said the government was open to many options as long as they would not negatively affect the progress of public sector pay reform.

Similarly, Prime Minister Golob said the "healthcare system is based on team work so the only long-term solution is when talks and agreements include nursing staff as part of healthcare pay pillar talks".

As the strike continues, many non-emergency health services remain limited because many doctors withdrew consent to work overtime.

The government passed a decree in late February determining the scope of services which doctors must perform, but the union has mounted a Constitutional Court challenge. A bill with similar content is currently in parliament.

Health Minister Valentina Prevolnik Rupel said the ministry would work further on the bill after receiving many remarks in response to the proposal but would make an effort to allow the parliamentary process to resume as soon as possible.

Fides sees the bill as the government's attempt to make it harder for doctors to strike. "Continuing to strike means certain rights and we will not let them be taken away from us," the union's head said.

The minister urged Fides again to join talks on healthcare pay pillar. The union has been refusing to take part in those talks.

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