Fed up teachers and medics plan joint action

Coming weeks could see joint industrial action by teachers and health workers who are fed up with government promises to improve their lot.

The Council of Latvia's Trade Union of Health and Social Care Workers decided Tuesday to launch preparations for a strike, as the union's representative Inga Rudzite told LETA.

"The main reason for the protest is the further reductions in the health budget planned by the government," explained Rudzite.

The trade union's head Valdis Keris told LETA that the rally would be held on November 3, which is when Saeima will review the 2016 budget bill in the first reading. The date of the rally could change if Saeima postpones review of the 2016 budget.

According to the trade union, the government has set the healthcare budget at 3 percent of gross domestic product in 2016, or less than 3.1 percent this year. This is contrary to the World Health Organization and European Commission's recommendations to improve access to healthcare and quality of healthcare in Latvia. Other European Union's healthcare budgets are on the average at 7.3 percent of GDP, while in the new member states - 5 percent of GDP.

The trade union will have three demands: higher healthcare quotas, reducing patients' co-payments, and increasing average wages for those employed in healthcare, said Keris.

He explained that the quotas for healthcare services should be set according to patients' needs, while patients' co-payments should be reduced to a "symbolic" level. As for the precise figures, these will have to be calculated by the Health Ministry, because the trade union does not have to do the ministry's job, he said.

He also said that healthcare workers' salaries should increase 10 percent. The trade union and Health Ministry estimate that this will require €22 million.

Taking into consideration that the Latvian Trade Union of Education and Science Employees has also expressed dissatisfaction with the 2016 budget bill, the two trade unions could organize a joint rally, said Rudzite.

Preparations for a strike will begin only if healthcare workers' demands are turned down. In that case, the strike could be organized in mid-December, said Keris.

As reported, the government approved the 2016 budget bill on August 2016, agreeing that ministries' expenditures would be reduced €12.4 million next year, except the defense, security, healthcare, and education spending.

The government also decided that the Health Ministry would be allotted extra €12 million for tackling various emergency matters next year.

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