RIGA - Latvian Health Minister Vinets Veldre has laid down the gauntlet to disgruntled doctors and nurses by dismissing their threats of strike action as "purely decorative."
In an interview with Latvian TV channel LNT on Oct. 4, the minister said that if the strike happened, it would only last two or three days.
He said that the strike is of interest for three groups of people: workers on minimum wage, the organizers of the strike, and the media. There will be no strike in large hospitals that provide operations and emergency care, he stated.
"It is my subjective opinion," said the minister.
In the light of Veldre's comments, the demands of the medical trade union that their salary be matched to the average salary in the economy next year look unlikely to be met.
The state budget for the next year will enable increase of the salaries only to the amount necessary to cover inflation (currently 10 percent), which will raise doctors' salaries by 57 lats (81 euros) to 631 lats per month. The salaries of nurses will grow to 379 lats before taxes, while nursing assistants' salaries will grow by 23 lats, to 253 lats.
Veldre's dismissive attitude runs the risk of hardening the stance of the doctors and nurses, who retain considerable public support.
Further contributing to the decline in labor relations, representatives of Latvian trade unions said they would not participate in the meeting of the National Tripartite Cooperation Council on Oct. 4 because they have not received any documents or estimates about next year's budget.
The trade unions are also set to take what they describe as "radical steps" in their fight for social security, as "pickets and strikes have long become like water off a duck's back" for the government.
"Upon analyzing the situation with the budget ahead of the extraordinary meeting of the National Tripartite Cooperation Council, the board of LBAS concluded that the social dialogue is still being ignored in our country, and that cooperation forms stipulated in the agreement concluded by the government, the Latvian Employers Confederation and LBAS are not being observed," the union confederation says in its statement.
The organization also notes that Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis has repeatedly made "inconsiderate announcements" about a need to restrict pay rises, while the Cabinet has been passing decisions to reduce social guarantees.
"This is being done in contradiction with the previous agreements between ministries and trade unions, as well as the proposals submitted by the unions," the statement says.