TALLINN - A nationwide general strike of medical workers will begin at 8 a.m. on Jan. 17, the strike committee of Estonian medical workers' associations said today. The strike will involve doctors, dentists, nurses and other middle-level health workers, and care nurses employed by legal entities, sole proprietors, and state and local government institutions and organizations providing health services in Estonia.
On Jan. 17-21 the action will embrace the outpatient medical aid system in Tallinn. As family doctors of the capital city too have announced suspending their agreements with the Health Insurance Fund from Jan. 17, they will not be seeing patients either.
If the demands of health workers are not met the strike will from Jan. 22 spread across the country.
Also from Jan. 22 family doctors will stop work in all Estonia.
All hospitals will stop receiving patients for scheduled treatment.
However, emergency aid will be available also during the strike. Patients who need help can turn to emergency rooms of hospitals.
More detailed information will be provided to the population through mass media channels.
The strike committee said in explanation of the decision to take action that despite the last years' robust economic growth the state has failed to come up with enough resources to secure Estonians with medical aid on the European level.
"Estonia has the shortest average lifespan and lowest ratio of health spending to gross domestic product of European Union member states," the committee said in a statement. "A large part of our young medics leaves to work abroad."
The committee pointed out that health workers have repeatedly turned to the government with demands to increase investment in health and health care, set cost-based prices for medical services and use health insurance tax receipts for the purpose they are meant for and not amass undistributed profit in the Health Insurance Fund.
"The government has so far done nothing to satisfy these demands or replied to the petitions," the strike committee said.
Medics' representatives added that no agreement has been reached at talks over health workers' minimum pay, the offer made by the hospitals' association was considerably below health workers' demands and the governmental commission did not make a proposal at all.
The purpose of the strike is to achieve fulfillment of the effective pay agreement and pay demands of health workers' associations and conclude a new agreement for 2007 and 2008, medical workers' representatives said.
The agreement should lay down new minimum pay rates which in 2007 would be 110 kroons an hour for doctors, 60 kroons for middle-level health workers and 32 kroons for care personnel.
In 2008 medics want double national average pay based on the 2007 data for doctors, 60 percent of doctors' minimum pay for middle-level health workers, and 58 percent of middle-level health workers' minimum pay for care nurses.
The next meeting at the public conciliator's office is set for Jan. 11.