RIGA - Latvia's healthcare woes look set to continue in 2005, as nurses have threatened to strike on top of a walk-out by anesthesiologists just two months ago.
The nurses trade union said last week that it would go on strike in January if the government failed to agree upon a specific date for increasing wages.
The union said it would send open letters to Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis and Health Minister Gundars Berzins outlining their demands and asking for a personal meeting to voice their concerns and wishes.
Nurses are demanding a monthly salary of 340 lats (1,420 euros). At present their monthly wages are 118 lats before taxes.
To ensure that their demands are met as soon as possible, nurses said they intended to go on strike together with public transport employees, who in turn have confirmed their preparedness to strike simultaneously, the union's president, Aigars Lavrinovics, said.
The preliminary strike commission has obtained data that 10,002 nurses are employed in the healthcare sector in Latvia, all of them working about 20 percent more than the weekly average.
The healthcare sector is short of 1,630 nurses, the union said.
The threat of a strike comes two months after anesthesiologists refused to work due to the state's failure in meeting wage demands. They returned to work only after hospital and government officials promised to find money for a pay raise.
Apathy in the country's health industry is running high. This week the head of the doctors' association said that as many as 75 doctors with different specializations have expressed their intention to work in other European Union countries. Viesturs Boka, head of the Latvian Doctors' Association, said medics wanted to move to Ireland, Sweden, Germany and Great Britain.
Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis is cognizant of the disgruntlement in the industry. He said in his New Year's address to the nation that improving health care would be one of the new government's most important tasks in 2005.