Chilean health workers hold an indefinite national strike

The healthcare professionals are demanding special bonuses for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic and a greater budget for the public health sector in 2021, among other measures

November 28, 2020 by Tanya Wadhwa
Over 60,000 public and municipal health workers across Chile have been carrying out an indefinite general strike. Photo: FENATS

Over 60,000 public and municipal health workers across Chile began an indefinite general strike on Monday, on November 23. Better working conditions, special bonuses for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic and a greater budget for the public health sector in 2021 are some of their demands.

Various mobilizations and protest actions were organized over the past week. On November 24, hundreds of doctors, nurses, medical assistants, ambulance drivers, among others, marched from the Posta Central hospital in the capital Santiago to the health ministry. On November 25, healthcare professionals mobilized from Victory Plaza to the National Congress headquarters in Valparaiso. On Th ursday a massive demonstration was held at the Dignity Plaza in Santiago and Friday, the healthcare providers carried out marches in different parts of the country.

The call for the national strike was given by the National Confederation of Public Health Workers (FENATS) on November 20. The president of the FENATS, Patricia Valderas, in a video posted on the organization’s social accounts explained that the measure was taken after the failure of negotiations with the health ministry.

“After eight months of talks with the ministry, three national mobilizations and two days of strike without having any satisfactory response from the current government, we have determined to call for an indefinite national strike,” said Valderas in the video. She indicated that “the strike will continue until a decent response is received from the government.”

Valderas pointed out that the health workers are working in precarious conditions due to the lack of resources to guarantee sufficient hospital infrastructure and protective equipment.

The FENATS also highlighted the same in its official statement. “The precarious situation of Public Health, aggravated during the COVID-19 health crisis; the lack of protective and sufficient resources to safeguard the life of officials; mismanagement, and the imminent order to all workers to return to their jobs without the possibility of complying with minimum prevention protocols, such as distancing, already get us closer to the alarming figure of 30,000 workers infected with Coronavirus, with numerous deaths because of it,” the FENATS wrote.

Valderas noted that the health sector’s budget has been cut by 3.2% as compared to last year and is not enough to cover the needs of the 80% of the population who rely on the public health system.

Valderas informed that only 30% of the FENATS affiliates are mobilizing because the hospitals cannot be abandoned amid the health emergency. However, she stressed that the demands raised have the support of 100% of the workers.

Members of several social movements and trade unions grouped under the CUT’s Health Secretariat also joined the demonstrations and expressed their support for health workers’ struggle.

Additionally, at the same time, for the past three days, thousands of Chileans have been taking to the streets in important cities of the country to demand an end to anti-people policies of the national government and the resignation of the right-wing president Sebastián Piñera. The citizens also demand the release of hundreds of protesters detained during the social uprising of October 2019 as well as of the Mapuche political prisoners.

On November 23 & 24, several mobilizations were held in the capital. Thousands of people demonstrated at the Dignity Plaza and the La Moneda presidential palace. Chilean national police, Carabineros, repressed the protests with tear gas and water cannons on both the days. Yesterday, on November 25, on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, thousands of women and feminists also held various protests against the authoritarian government in the capital as well as other cities of the country.

The recent wave of protest was sparked after the national government blocked the second withdrawal of 10% from the pension fund (AFP) this weekend. On November 22, the government presented an appeal to the Constitutional Court, declaring the bill for the second withdrawal of pension funds is in violation of the constitution. In its place, the head of the state presented another bill that imposes a tax on those who wish to access their savings.The citizens are demanding that the legislators approve the second withdrawal without taxes.

Due to the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, in the month of July, the Chilean government relaxed restrictions and allowed the workers to withdraw 10% of the amount in their APF account. After its success, this month, the Congress began debating on the second withdrawal to help the citizens.