Nurses' salary negotiations have reached public conciliator

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Poster calling for fair pay for nurses Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The salary negotiations for nurses have reached the public conciliator, Anneli Kannus, president of the Estonian Nurses Union, told the daily Postimees.

According to the daily, doctors and medical support staff have had a salary agreement in their pockets for a month now, while nurses went to negotiate work conditions independently. "It was unexpected for the other parties, efforts were made so that the Nurses Union would not sit at the same table with the others," Kannus said.

Although employers cannot ignore the union, the year of negotiations has so far failed. Nurses want the remuneration of special nurses and professional caregivers to increase. According to Kannus, there are over seven hundred special nurses in Estonia who have more rights than ordinary nurses. "Just as there are non-specialized physicians and specialists who study for six and ten years respectively, there are general nurses and special nurses," she said.

The training of a general nurse takes 3.5 years, and for the training of a special nurse, a year and a half is added to that. Special nurses will be able to do some of the work of doctors in the future. "If only we dare use their potential," Kannus said.

Special nurses have been trained for 15 years. "Without changes to the salary system, nurses will be less likely to opt for extra studies and will quit in the end, with the most promising people leaving," Kannus said.

Meanwhile, other countries are thinking of increasing the number of nurses. Finland and the United Kingdom have allocated money for campaigns to bring in nurses from elsewhere. In many European countries, nurses have more appointments during the crisis. "Estonia has not done much. If we want our nurses to stay here, we have to look after them. On a plane, too, one must first put on an oxygen mask themselves, otherwise no one can be helped," Kannus said.

If the Nurses Union does not reach an agreement with the employers, the nurses will go on strike in fall. "A strike is, of course, a last resort. In a crisis, we put the interests of patients first. Today, we are in a situation where the health of nurses must be maintained first," Kannus said.

She said she hopes that the hospitals will not force the nurses to catch up on the planned work canceled due to COVID-19 in the summer but that they will be able to rest first. This may mean longer waiting times for patients. Intensive vaccination against COVID-19, in which nurses play a key role, falls on the vacation period. It is planned to inject as many doses in four weeks as in the last five months.

"At first, when there were few vaccines, we did well," Kannus said. "Later, both the e-booking system and logistics have successively failed – weaknesses that have been talked about for years and highlighted by the COVID-19 crisis."

The same goes for the planning. "The nurses could do it, but we definitely do not want to spend valuable time just waiting for someone to perhaps come in to get vaccinated."

Hospital managers have said nurses are less likely to get vaccinated than doctors. However, according to Kannus, the vaccination rate is constantly increasing. "For example, in Rakvere Hospital, all medical staff have had injections, and the figure is also very high at the University of Tartu Hospital. But we do not want to talk about the low rates in Tallinn and Ida-Viru County and not all doctors have been vaccinated either," Kannus said.

True, with doctors, the vaccination figure is 10 percent higher than that of nurses, Postimees writes.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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