Nurses rally to demand pay hike

  • 2001-03-15
  • BNS
RIGA - About 1,000 nurses gathered March 8 outside a government building in Riga demanding higher pay. The protesters met with Prime Minister Andris Berzins, but the rally ended without any concrete promises about wage increases.

The parties only agreed to set up a working group that would work on the issue.

Berzins said he was afraid that finding the additional funding in the state budget to grant the wages would be nearly impossible.

The nurses are demanding that their monthly wage be raised to 150 lats ($244) by Jan. 1, 2002. They have warned they would go on strike for several days at the end of March if their demands are not accepted.

Many nurses said they were resigned that their wages would not be increased, but joined the rally for the sake of solidarity.

A recent public opinion poll shows 48 percent of Latvia's 13,317 medicine nurses have given hope of any improvement in their working conditions. Despite the promise to set up a working group, many nurses did not rule out the possibility of an all-out strike.

Deputy chairwoman of the Latvian Doctors and Nurses Union Antra Line told reporters it could happen May 10. The final decision on holding the strike, its length and the number of nurses joining in will be made March 29.

At the rally, protesters carried signs bearing slogans such as: "We don't want to exist, we want to live!" "We demand the post of chief nurse be restored at the Welfare Ministry!" and "Quality care for patients!"

One of the nurses, dressed as the Grim Reaper, held a scythe and a poster saying, "I will come if you don't give the money." The nurses greeted Berzins by shouting "We want to live like you do!" and "We want to eat."

The prime minister told reporters that the government's healthcare budget does not ensure sufficient pay for nurses.

He added that wages were set by individual hospitals and that to compare wages would be unfair.

Political parties meanwhile used the nurses' rally for campaign fodder just ahead of the March 11 municipal elections.

Social Democrats and other politicians distributed campaign materials to rally participants.

Nurses from Riga as well as nurses and hospital representatives from Limbazi, Silgulda, Ventspils and Balvi joined the rally.

The nurses plan to hold rallies in other towns, including Aluksne, Daugavpils, Cesis, Valmiera, Saldus, Liepaja, Balvi and Rezekne.

On March 13 the government postponed consideration of the nurses' demands for two weeks.