Nurses union considering strike action

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

Nurses in Estonia say they are considering strike action after a long-running labor dispute broke down earlier in the summer. At the heart of the matter is nurses' work conditions and the application to specialist nurses. Health minister Tanel Kiik (Center) said that while his ministry will listen to the nurses union's grievances, a collective agreement which was struck without their involvement is still a fait accompli for the next two years.

Estonian Nurses' Association (Eesti Õdede Liit) head Anneli Kannus said that: "It all started because they tried to keep us away from the table at all costs," referring to employers' representatives.

"We cannot be a party to an agreement in which we have not been able to have a say," Kannus continued, quoted by BNS.

"In addition, the collective agreement concluded does not reflect developments important for health care, the remuneration of specialist nurses and care workers with specialist training, which were essential elements of the proposal for a collective agreement by the Estonian Nurses' Association," she added.

Postimees reported Thursday that the matter was still without resolution even with the help of a public conciliator, while Anneli Kannus said here organization was only invited to join the agreement after the fact, in other words after it had been made.

Postimees wrote that a distinction was drawn in the agreement, between a nurse, who holds a bachelor's degree, and a specialist nurse, who holds a master's degree. This means the latter's rights and responsibilities need to be set out in greater detail, with a legislative amendment underway which would give specialist nurses limited prescription rights, and the right to open a certificate of incapacity for work.

Kannus said that the union was now in a position to legitimately take strike action, while signing an agreement involving it would head this off.

"We need certainty that in the long term the state sees and understands the development needs of health care. Working conditions need to be improved and, in fact, healthcare workers need to be treated equally as well," Kannus said, adding this would need to be concluded before the end of summer.

"If this does not happen, we will have to think about what our next steps will be, and, as one step, we could start preparing a strike," Kannus went on.

Health minister Tanel Kiik (Center) told Postimees his ministry will certainly be dealing with the nurses association proposals.

Kiik said that: "It makes sense to discuss these proposals on a broad basis, which is very important for moving forward in order to create an agreement within the field of health."

Negotiations started in June 2020 and ran to March this year, with the public conciliator coming on board in April, while the announcement that no agreement had been made came in early June.

The Estonian Nurses' Association did subsequently draw up their own agreement, which they wanted Kiik's signature on, along with those of representatives from the Estonian Hospital Association, the Estonian Health Insurance Fund and the Union of Estonian Emergency Medical Services.

This would have dealt with the status and rights of specialist nurses, nurses' workloads and wage distinctions between them and those of workers with specialist training.

Tanel Kiik said that the existing collective agreement in force for the next two years still applies, notwithstanding the nurses' union not being a party, and added that it would be difficult to separately negotiate with the nurse.

Strike action in Estonia is rare in comparison with its northern neighbor, Finland. Union action is often seen as coterminous with the ideals of the Soviet era, while organizations which ostensibly perform the function of trade unions, in some cases are as much lobby groups for a particular profession as anything.

A 'strike' last year was in fact more of a lock-out on the part of large pharmacy chain protesting reforms within the sector, and only lasted half a day; another strike in 2019 was focused on a single personality, a high school principal whom protestors wanted reinstating after she was fired, and it only lasted a single hour.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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