Czech health unions insist on 10-percent blanket pay rise

The Czech Republic’s trade unions in health care are set to hold talks with the health minister this week. They have rejected his offer of a five-percent pay rise and insist on a blanket salary increase of 10 percent. If their demands are not met, they are ready to call on doctors and nurses to stop doing over-time.

Adam Vojtěch, photo: Jana Přinosilová / Czech RadioAdam Vojtěch, photo: Jana Přinosilová / Czech Radio Czech health minister Adam Vojtěch announced on Sunday that there would be no blanket wage hike for doctors and nurses this year. The statement has elicited a sharp response from the country’s health unions, which have been pushing for a 10-percent rise for all workers in the health sector.

In July, the unions called a strike alert in support of higher wages and wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, urging him to keep promises made by the coalition government in 2016.

But Mr. Vojtěch says wages in the health care sector have already risen by 30 percent in the last five years. Speaking in a debate programme on Czech Television on Sunday, he said the government would only raise salaries of specific workers, such as young doctors who are at the beginning of their careers:

“The biggest problem we are facing today is the lack of nurses in acute inpatient care. We want to pump 4.7 billion crowns into the sector, to support staff doing shifts.

“It will be quite a significant salary hike and it is definitely something that makes sense. We cannot solve problems by a blanket pay rise. We have to target specific areas. This is my firm conviction.”

In reaction to the statement, the head of the Czech Doctors’ Union, Martin Engel, said that the 10-percent salary hike was the only option they were ready to debate. He also said money was not the only problem, pointing out that the Czech health care sector was currently lacking some 3,000 doctors.

Photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech RadioPhoto: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio Dagmar Žitníková, the head of umbrella organization of health and social services employees, told Czech Television that she was convinced there was enough money in the health care sector to allow for the 10-percent raise in wages.

“Our long-term agreement was a raise of 10-percent for three consecutive years, but unfortunately we haven’t signed any deal this year.

“We have held talks with the minister in the past and we plan to meet him again. I am convinced there is still space for negotiation.”

Mrs. Žitníková says if their demands are not met, the unions will call on doctors and nurse to abide by the Labour Code with respect to overtime and urge them to highlight the breaking of regulations.

Many hospitals in the Czech Republic admit that due to a shortage of staff they are forcing doctors and nurses to take more overtime hours than the Labour Code abides.