Health workers hang up their lab coats in protest

Health workers in Konjic, BIH, stopped working in protest against a prolonged financial crisis of key health institutions in the city

December 16, 2021 by Peoples Health Dispatch

More than 300 health workers in Konjic in the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina decided to hang up their lab coats at the entrance of Konjic General Hospital on 15 December, in protest against a financial crisis that the town’s health institutions have been struggling with for months on end. Nurses, doctors, and other health workers warned the authorities that this was their last warning before they quit en masse, a move that would cause the collapse of health services in the area.

The protest is the latest in a series of workers’ actions since late November this year. Until now, workers have engaged in striking activities and road blockages, calling for the different governments to ensure the payment of the salaries they are owed. “Our health system must begin to function decently. This is one of the most serious situations in healthcare in all Europe. The workers cannot afford to buy gas. They cannot buy food for breakfast,” said trade unionist Dalibor Vuković at the protest.

Both the local hospital’s and health center’s accounts have been blocked by the tax authorities because of an outstanding debt of 11 million euros. As a result, the workers have not been paid since July, and are struggling to make ends meet while continuing to provide essential care, including COVID-19 care, to patients.

While some of the protesters talked about quitting their jobs and moving out of town and out of state, others insisted that cantonal and federal authorities have a responsibility to ensure the availability of healthcare in the area. Biba Buturović, a nurse at Konjic General Hospital, told Al Jazeera Balkans that: “They (the different governments, PHD) would like us to leave so they can shut the hospital down. But we won’t do that, this country has a responsibility to provide healthcare, and they have a responsibility to ensure that we have all the means we need to provide it. They will have to provide the necessary means so we can do our jobs with dignity.”

Workers at the health center, however, already started handing in their notices. The director of the center, Jasminka Brkan-Hrvačić, said in an interview that 4 physicians have left since September. “It’s very difficult for the workers to work in these conditions, especially for the young doctors who move to Konjic from other parts of the country and have to pay rent on top of everything else”, she said.

Because doctors are leaving, those who stay have to take up additional work to provide care to everyone who needs it. Of course, since they are not paid for their regular work, let alone overtime, the workers are frustrated, and no one can actually blame them for that, Brkan-Hrvačić remarked.

While there has been no significant reaction from either local, cantonal or federal authorities, several members of the local community have expressed their support for the workers’ actions.

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