Health workers and members of trade unions in the health and care sector in Slovenia, including the Trade Union of Health and Social Security and the Nurses’ Trade Union – Florence, organized a one-day strike on February 16. Physiotherapists, nurses, pharmacists, and auxiliary workers in publicly-owned health institutions all over the countries stopped their work as the government has betrayed its 2018 pledge to engage in negotiations for enhancing workers’ rights in healthcare.
While several ministers, including those of health and labor, denied the unions’ allegations and insisted that the government had taken adequate measures to protect health workers’ rights during the pandemic and beyond, including allocation of additional resources and new job openings, the trade unions warned that working conditions in the health system remain poor – worsened by years of neglect and inadequate funding in the public health sector. Among other issues, trade unionists pointed to the high rates of emigration among some health professions, most notably nurses, and the extremely precarious position of public care institutions, including homes for the elderly.
Trade unions are demanding an overall increase in rights to reflect the growing life expenses. They are particularly focused on ensuring that the increase is implemented fairly across all professions. This demand is linked to a recent government decision to increase the pay grade of senior physicians, which left out all other health workers. As one of the physicians’ main trade unions, FIDES, signed on to this deal, other trade unions expressed very stern criticism, saying that such a move would undermine solidarity between health workers and put senior physicians, who already enjoy the best rights in the sector, in an even more advantageous position compared to others.
The decision was eventually blocked by Slovenia’s Constitutional Court, but unfortunately, the court decision did not prompt a suitable response from the government, and FIDES’ members did not join the strike. On the other hand, the striking workers received numerous expressions of support from trade unions in other sectors, including education and commerce, as well as international trade union confederations. In an open letter published a couple of days before the strike, the European Public Services Union expressed its full support for the strike, saying that: “Faced with a government that does not understand or respect the work of those in health and care, workers overwhelmingly support the action.”
Health workers were also supported by progressive organizations in Slovenia. Among others, the collective Rdeča Pesa described the strike as an important step in the struggle for a public and accessible quality health and care system, inviting people to support the striking health workers. In an overview of the actions, they wrote: “All workers need a public health system, independently of where they are employed. Our unity is a key condition for its protection and expansion.”
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