Polish hospitals feel pain as nurses step up strikes, protests

Associated Press, 27 November 2000

WARSAW, Poland,, Nov 27, 2000 (AP WorldStream via COMTEX)—Hospitals in some parts Poland limited the number of new patients they would receive as nurses escalated strikes and sit-ins Monday to demand higher pay.

Among the hardest hit areas was the southwestern region of Silesia. In the Wroclaw area alone, more than 4,000 nurses and midwives—half of the number working there—were taking part in protests, a local union official said.

Some hospitals were accepting only emergency cases because of staff shortages.

“We want respect and worthy pay for our work. We need money to live,” said the head of the Nurses Association in Warsaw, Hanna Gutowska.

The nurses want monthly pay increases of 200 to 500 zlotys (dlrs 44 to dlrs 110). They currently make an average of 700 zlotys (dlrs 155), well below the national average of 2,000 zlotys (dlrs 445).

Isolated protests began in mid-November, and have intensified. The government so far has refused to become involved in the wage dispute.

Poland has struggled to reform its health-care system since shedding communist rule in 1989. With most hospitals deeply in debt, their managers have been reluctant to enter wage talks or promise raises.

Labor unrest and rising unemployment, which topped 14 percent last month, are among the few dark clouds in Poland's relatively good economic outlook.

Restructuring and sell-offs of inefficient industries have led to layoffs, delays in wage payments and cuts in government subsidies. Coal miners, weapons industry workers, farmers and teachers are among the most prominent groups that have staged strikes and protests recently.