S. Korean health workers plan strike over poor working conditions
Posted on : Aug.19,2021 17:44
The union said its 80,000 members will begin a general strike if their demands for increased staffing and improved working conditions are not met
Members of the North Jeolla region branch of the Korean Health and Medical Worker’s Union hold a press conference in front of the North Jeolla Provincial Office on Wednesday. (Yonhap News)
The voices of nurses filled Life Hall at the offices of the Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union (KHMU) in Seoul, where a press conference was being held Wednesday.
“Even when I’m sick, I can’t take a day off. I have to go back to work because we’re short-staffed. A lot of people campaigned for a while to increase the number of health workers, but we’re still working under the same conditions as last year, yet a lot of people have forgotten about us. It’s very sad,” a nurse in an infectious disease isolation ward said.
They had tears in their eyes as they explained why they had no choice but to go on strike. According to them, no progress has been made with improvement measures to address a situation where public hospitals account for less than 10% of Korea’s hospitals but are in charge of over 80% of COVID-19 patients.
During press conferences, that day, the KHMU and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) announced that they would be proceeding with a general strike if their demands for “increased health services and medical staffing and improved treatment” are not met. The press conferences were held simultaneously at 11 regional headquarters throughout South Korea.
“If no deal is reached within the 15-day dispute mediation period, then 80,000 KHMU members will begin a full-scale general strike and collective action on Sept. 2,” the KHMU said.
On Tuesday, 124 KHMU chapters — with 56,000 members from 136 healthcare institutions — applied simultaneously for dispute mediation with the National Labor Relations Commission and its local branches. It’s the largest scale since a general strike in 2004.
“I anticipate a lot of people will be very concerned, wondering how we can be going on strike during the COVID-19 situation,” said Na Soon-ja, president of the KHMU.
“But we can’t go on with this approach of grinding workers up in our COVID-19 response when we have no idea when it’s going to end. It’s going to be impossible for Korean society to cope with a ‘with COVID’ era without increases in health and medical staffing and health services staffing,” she continued.
According to the KHMU, the government and employers have been passing responsibility off on each other when they should be taking action to resolve the issues. The union has been negotiating with the government and employers since late May, but no agreement has been reached.
“When we’ve demanded fair compensation and improved treatment, the employees have just tried to buy time, insisting that it ‘costs too much,’” the union said.
“The Ministry of Health and Welfare [MOHW] has remained consistently noncommittal, talking about how it ‘sympathizes with our aims’ but also how it intends to ‘review’ the matter. For the past two-and-a-half months, there has been no real progress with the negotiations,” it added.
The KHMU and KCTU announced a list of eight demands meant to revise disease control measures and prepare for a long-term battle with the pandemic.
To reinforce health services, the union called for specialized infectious disease hospitals to be built quickly; one additional health services center in each of South Korea’s 70 secondary catchment areas; and improvements to public hospital facilities, equipment, and staffing infrastructure and increases in funding.
To increase health and medical staffing and improve treatment, they called for the development of guidelines for suitable staff by job type and legislation of a maximum number of patients per nurse; full-scale expansion of the support system for nurses specializing exclusively in education; eradicating unlawful healthcare practices; bolstering healthcare institution assessment standards to promote high-quality health services; and increased physician staffing and the establishment of health services colleges.
The union did say that it plans to “continue negotiations with the MOHW before the general strike comes to pass.”
In a briefing Wednesday, Park Hyang, director of the disease control supervision group for the MOHW-affiliated Central Disaster Management Headquarters, said the administration was “at work right now developing standards for COVID-19 treatment staff.”
“In terms of expanding health services, we’re approaching the union and negotiations with a positive direction,” she added.
By Yi Ju-been, staff reporter
Please direct comments or questions to [email@example.com]
S. Korean health workers plan strike over poor working conditions https://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/1008341.html