One of the most important Slovak events in 2011 was the protest of over 2,000 medical doctors employed by state hospitals; 1,200 of them (from the total of 6,500) temporarily cancelled their job contracts later. It was not the first such protest. Medical doctors had already been protesting in 2006, demanding a 25% wage raise and cancellation of the transformation of hospitals to (state-owned) stock companies.
In 2009, too, doctors were not satisfied with their wages. But the head of their trade union declared that in the time of crisis they wanted to be with the rest of the society. At the time of the emerging euro crisis of 2011 this solidarity was no longer there. That's why some people labeled their protest as political, even also the former Prime Minister asked them to not desert their patients.
Demanding 1.5-3 times of the country's average wage and adhering to labor laws to eliminate overtime work, doctors again requested to stop transforming hospitals: in their understanding, the transformation was a preparation for an imminent privatization. They were also afraid that it could harm professional training of medical students and young doctors.
The government offered them a smaller wage raise (300 euro per month on the average, which is comparable to the local minimal wage) and refused to stop the hospital reform, naming it a crucial step towards higher efficiency.
Katarína Ragáčová wrote an text [sk] about how she had lost her child during the 2006 protest, because of the inactivity of the hospital staff, noting that hers was the third child lost during that day.
According to some sources, over 20 percent of the country's doctors hold a second job in the private sector, which weakens the overtime claim of their protest. Also, 25 percent of the Slovak households have had experience with medical corruption, which means that the doctors’ actual income is often bigger than their official income. Asking for even more may appear immoral if you compare the doctors’ official monthly average salary of 1500 euro with the 770 euro a month that Slovakia's teachers are paid.
So it was not so surprising that the majority of the population interpreted the protesters’ demands as private interest and did not support the doctors’ protest.
At the beginning of December, the most radical group of some 1,200 doctors actually did quit their jobs. A state of emergency was declared in the affected hospitals, which temporarily made it possible to call the doctors back to work, against their will.
The trade unions recommended these doctors to visit their own doctors and declare inability to work because of tiredness and stress. The head of the union compared the help of 25 Czech army doctors to the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact forces in 1968.
After a few days, the government and the trade union came to an agreement, which, among other things, allowed the doctors who had quit – and who immediately became healthy again – to return to their jobs.
The head of the union said that the lower negotiated wage growth (1.25-2.3 times the average wage) was proof that their requests were not just about the money. The PM claimed, however, that nearly all of the negotiations were about the wages.
The Association of Slovak Hospitals expressed its opinion that higher wages would bring collapse to the country's smaller hospitals. They believe it might happen a few weeks after the March 10 early parliamentary elections.
Below are some views [sk] translated from the discussion under the article on the outcome of the negotiations:
Congratulations to those doctors who held out until the end, despite the massive anti-campaign in the media, the incompetent minister and his strikebreakers
It is especially necessary to say thank you to those unknown doctors who stayed with the patients. Probably the society will never know their names, but these are the noble heroes, not those who, despite the government's concessions, were willing to let patients die and achieved nothing but frustration and aversion to the medical profession in the society.
and now it's time for the teachers [to protest]
And healthcare [quality] will further go down … and doctors will receive salaries that most of them do not deserve and patients will continue to die in hospitals, because doctors … did not receive [bribes] from them
Doctors did not quit their jobs because their families are starving, but because they want more.
I want some government to finally restore order in healthcare. It's clear that doctors will really squeal. The better measures for the patient, the more squealing by the Slovak physicians.
The best would be to publish [the names of] the doctors who did not accept the previous government's compromise 300€ and who in the state of emergency declared [their] illness! I do not want such filth to treat people, because they do not care about patients but just about the money.
The government has been defeated and the taxpayers are losing with it … It is just a question of time until doctors do it again – they already know that the government and the public are weak.
Everything bad is good for something. I believe that most people will change their view on doctors and will stop perceiving them as some sort of a special caste. Pity that this will also affect the doctors who deserve the highest respect.
they will miraculously recover – it's enough to put 200 or 500 euro banknotes on their foreheads and all illnesses would be gone!
I congratulate citizens of Slovakia. Doctors have saved their hospitals. Many citizens already understand this, many will understand later.