Nurses in Slovenia protested for better working conditions and salary increases on Wednesday, February 22. Union officials from the Trade Union of Health Care Workers of Slovenia, who organized the protest, said the action was sparked by the failure to address nurses’ rights adequately during several rounds of collective bargaining over the past two years.
Currently nurses’ salaries and workload are causing workers to drop out of the profession or emigrate. The problem is particularly felt where newly graduated nurses are concerned. According to the trade unionists, their reluctance to seek employment locally could have a detrimental effect on the whole health system, which could collapse as older generations retire and the workload increases further.
Other grievances quoted during the protest include the failure to offer adequate pay rises to nurses, even as the income of other health workers grew. While Health Minister Danijel Bešič Loredan has said the salary increase would come up during the next phases of collective bargaining, the trade union claims that negotiations have gone nowhere until now.
While some groups of health workers saw a more significant improvement of their income because of the progress made during the bargaining process, nurses say they were left behind. This was the case even as they shouldered most of the workload and care burden through the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses trained through vocational high school programs, who represent a significant percentage of the overall nursing workforce, endured most of the consequences.
Slavica Mencingar, President of the health workers’ trade union, said: “We nurses are an essential part of this [health care system] as we work 24 hours a day, every day of the year. There is no health care system without us.”
Other health workers, including midwives and medical technicians, supported the nurses’ action. Statements of support came from the professional associations of nurses and midwives, as well as from other medical unions. Gregor Zemljič, Vice-President of trade union Fides, said in a comment to the media that the nursing profession in Slovenia has been devastated both professionally and financially over the past decades. “If we do something to change this, we will greatly contribute to the health system in the short and medium term,” he said.
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