AK: Nurses' union holding out for better conditions in negotiations

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Nurses in an Estonian hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic. Source: ERR

Collective bargaining between healthcare unions and employers, including hospitals and the ambulance service, continue to founder on the issue of nurses' rights, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Friday night.

While most other healthcare workers' representatives have signed up to a deal, nurses' representatives continue to negotiate separately.

Media reports at various times during the pandemic have said the Estonian healthcare system has on occasion been nearing melt-down, most recently in late March when coroanvirus rates were much higher than at present, and many Tallinn ambulances having to re-route to hospitals as far afield as Pärnu.

Following the compilation of a draft collective agreement over a year ago, a group of nurses belonging to the union opted to engage in a separate round of negotiations from last summer. This union on Thursday again rejected the chance to sign-up to the collective agreement in its current form, AK reported.

National conciliator Meelis Virkebau told AK that: "A salary supplement of 40 cents per hour for nurses and caregivers has been agreed in this draft.

Meanwhile Urmas Sule, chair of the Hospitals Association (Haiglate liit), noted the importance of striving for a common agreement between employers and employees, and did not want a two-tier (or more) system of negotiation.

He said: "A situation where we try to make a separate agreement with each person or organization is definitely not good for the healthcare sector. Healthcare is a collective service, and all parties in healthcare must be able to speak the same language."

Nurses are also represented by the Association of Healthcare Professionals (Tervishoiutöötajate kutseliit) which itself signed the agreement on Wednesday.

The union's leader, Iivi Luik, said that the collective agreement as it is covers aspects such as nighttime and weekend work, bonuses and additional leave, including for those who have voluntarily received the coronavirus vaccine.

Meelis Virkebau was engaged in talks on two separate occasions, AK reported, one resolved Wednesday and involving the Association of Physicians (Arstide Liit), the Professional Association of Healthcare Professionals (Tervishoiutöötajate kutseliit) and the Association of Clinical Psychologists (Psühholoogide liit), signed a collective agreement with the Association of Hospitals (Haiglate liit)and the Association of Ambulances (Kiirabi liit). 

This agreement also applies to nurses and caregivers, as well as other health care workers, with only the nursing union dispute ongoing.

Virkebau said he was awaiting progress on this and hoped to get answers from employers next week.

Medical students have also undergone nursing training to help out during the pandemic.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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