Health and Social Workers´Unions on strike alert

Photo: CTK

Europe has been recently paralysed by a series of strong protests: last week trade unions in France tried to draw their government's attention to consequences resulting from the planned pension reform; and on Tuesday, European Commission officials in Brussels protested against the proposed change of the retirement age limit that will be prolonged from today's sixty to sixty three years. The Czech Republic, too, is gearing up for mass protests in connection with planned pension and fiscal reforms.

A government proposal for public finance reform aimed at cutting the country's large budget deficit would bring - among other things - sweeping changes in the social and health care systems, such as lower growth in salaries and lower social benefits. According to the trade unions, this would most affect the most vulnerable social groups and employees - such as families with children, pensioners and employees in the public sector.

As a sign of the rising discontent among workers, trade unions are organizing a mass demonstration on Thursday in Ostrava - the administrative centre of northern Moravia, a region with some of the highest unemployment rates in the country. It would be the biggest public protest there since the fall of communism in 1989, with about 10,000 people expected to attend.

Health workers' unions have already gone on strike alert, protesting against planned changes in wage tariffs in the health sector. The changes are intended to grant higher salaries to more educated and experienced professionals. However, according to the president of the Health and Social Workers' Unions, Jiri Schlanger, the government would have to provide more subsidise the sector to be able to pay wages under the new system:

"The health care system will be seriously affected and as a matter of fact the aims of the reform will not be fulfilled. There will be a lot of people whose salaries will be lower due to the reform and it will not do any good to those that we wanted to help most, that is people with university degree or higher education."

But Health Minister Marie Souckova disagrees:

"Health care workers are not paid from the state budget, but from health insurance and other sources. It's my task to find ways to obtain the necessary subsidies so that we can introduce a new wage tariff system."

The Health and Social Workers' Unions are to negotiate with the government on 11 June. In case they do not reach an agreement, the unions will go on strike before 16 June, when the government is expected to submit a final proposal of the public finance

Author: Marta Hudoušková
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