Unions call for healthcare spending outside EU ministers' meeting

Speaking at the medics’ protest in front of the National Library building Monday, Jan Willem Goudriaan, General Secretary of the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) urged Latvia’s social and health care workers to cross their arms in a sign of ‘No!’ to the austerity that has impacted Europe’s long-term well-being.

Goudriaan cited the more than 8 million workers in the public health care and social work professions across Europe, who have felt “under attack” for many years now as “businesses and their friends (in government) are working to roll back the welfare state.” Because profit maximization strategies and the rules of the open market have been driving European health services, “many millions have not been given a decent pay increase in the last years,” the public workers’ trade union leader cited.

But in Latvia, he pointed out, the government’s sticking to austerity measures “has meant that the budget for health is the lowest in the EU and much below the average.” Therefore people aren’t getting the health care they deserve and workers in the sector cannot provide the services they want to give, he argued, citing not just trade union positions, but also the official opinion of the EC's Commissioner for Human Rights.

He said it was “shameful” that the numbers of disabled as well as mortality levels have grown so dramatically in Latvia, and rejected attempts by ministers trying to convince the leaders of Europe gathered inside the EU Presidency’s conference venue of a false “success story”.

“We’ve had a worsening of health care and our children, nieces, nephews, parents, families and friends see no improvements,” he said.

The message of the protest meeting is simple, Goudriaan said: Health care needs more funding. He called on EU leaders to stop allowing the rich and corporations to escape tax obligations that could in fact pull in a trillion euros each year, enough money to pay for decent pay increases and investments in public health care infrastructures.

He singled out McDonalds fast food chain as a prime example of a firm that could be paying European state coffers a billion euros in taxes, but instead exploits loopholes and schemes of tax avoidance and social dumping allowed by the EU to maximize profits.

But he reminded the estimated three hundred or so Latvian medics gathered there that they are in a “common struggle of solidarity” with their colleagues across the EU and that they must call on their governments to end austerity and invest in public health.

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