Health care, social care staff on strike

Ljubljana – Nurses, staff at social care institutions and pharmacies went on strike this morning after yesterday’s negotiations brought no meaningful progress, neither a pay increase similar to a recently agreed one for doctors and dentists. Public broadcaster RTV Slovenija has reported that 50,000 staff would be on strike today.

The strike is planned between 7am and 10pm at most of the institutions, with the exception of pharmacies, which are not providing full services between 10m and 4pm.

Only urgent services are provided at hospitals, community health centres and social work centres, with social care centres switching to Sunday hours.

Under strike legislation, vulnerable groups, such as children, pregnant women, cancer patients or the elderly, must be provided a full scope of services.

Trade unions have urged all workers, including non-members, to join the strike, but some have opted out, largely to prevent delays in the treatment of patients.

UKC Ljubljana, the largest hospital in the country, has not cancelled scheduled examinations, treatments and operations, while it said it respected the right to strike.

At the Maribor Community Health Centre, the staff on strike does only the minimum of work, “meaning processing all patients with urgent referrals or acute conditions”.

Covid-19 vaccination and testing proceeds as normal, while all the other patients are advised to return on Thursday, said Aleksander Jus, assistant director for nurses.

The Trbovlje Community Health Centre switched to Sunday hours, yet not all scheduled examinations could be rescheduled and will be carried out despite the strike.

Staff at the Murska Sobota Community Health Centre are meanwhile not on strike. Its director Edith Žižek Sapač told the STA the trade unionists had told her this morning they renounced the strike. The situation is similar in Kočevje, where the staff decided that most services will be provided as usual.

Over 100 members of the Trade Union of Nurses working at the Novo Mesto hospital and the community health centre gathered in front of the health centre this morning.

Marjanca Čegovnik, a member of the union, said they protested against unequal treatment of nurses and doctors and against the disintegration of the public sector pay system as a result of a planned pay rise for doctors and dentists.

Support for the workers on strike has also been expressed by several other trade unions representing employees in the public and private sectors.

The KSJS confederation of public sector unions blamed the strike entirely on the government, arguing that by not being willing to accept at least the minimum of the unions’ demands, it “again showed its stepmotherly attitude to health and social care staff”.

FIDES, a powerful trade union of doctors, on the other hand, said doctors and dentists have ethical reservations about striking during a difficult epidemiological situation, “which they do not intend to abuse for their own interests”.

The union pointed to the Public Administration Ministry data showing that since 2016, nurses have had their pay increase by 25% more than doctors. It is also shocked that the strike had been promoted with the argument “that doctors have been given a pay rise, which has not happened” yet.

The government does not see any reason for the strike, given that talks are under way and that nurses and social care staff had a pay rise already late last year. At the time, the two sides agreed to continue the talks early this year.

Health Minister Janez Poklukar said yesterday that the starting points the government adopted in January were a good basis for broad dialogue and for eventually reaching a consensus.