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As Hospital Workers Go on Strike, Patients Feel Uneasy

Posted July. 21, 2005 03:05,   


The Korean Health and Medical Workers Union launched a no-time-limit strike at 7:00 a.m. on July 20, following the pilots’ strike at Asiana Airlines.

However, the number of hospitals participating in the walkout is less than a third of the number of hospitals that were expected to go on strike. In hospitals that launched a strike, a minimum number of staff members kept working to provide essential medical services in the emergency room, operating room, neonatal room, and intensive care unit, preventing a medical crisis like that of last year.

Strike Begins-

The Ministry of Labor announced that six hospitals and 1,100 workers participated in the walkout. On the other hand, the Korean Health and Medical Workers Union said that 14 hospitals and 3,000 workers took part in the strike.

The hospital workers’ union negotiated overnight with management until the morning of July 20 and ironed out some differences on several issues. However, they failed to narrow differences on key issues such as the expanded implementation of the five-day work week, turning non-regular workers into regular workers, a guarantee of the industrial union minimum wage, and a pay hike.

The hospital union and management continue to negotiate, but if they fail to reach an agreement by July 22, the time limit of government arbitration, the dispute will be referred to the National Labor Relations Commission for settlement by arbitration. The arbitration by the commission is as effective as a collective agreement and should be accepted without fail.

No Big Medical Crisis-

However, the rate of participation in the strike by hospitals fell far short of the expectations of the hospital union which had anticipated 21 hospitals would go on strike.

Hospitals, including Kyung Hee Medical Center, that reached agreements through a settlement with each region’s labor commission, irrespective of industrial union, did not participate in the strike. As the nation’s four largest hospitals, Seoul National University Hospital, Samsung Medical Center, Severance Hospital, and Asan Medical Center chose not to go on strike, the momentum of the strike weakened.

The Korea University Medical Center saw no disruption in its work pattern and operations because union workers in essential medical services did not participate in the strike. The blood-gathering room, which is usually crowded in the morning, provided its usual treatment to patients who had appointments since no workers there took part in the strike.

At Hanyang University Medical Center, there was no serious “medical service vacuum” even though out of 1,900 union workers, some 200 workers, most of them off duty, went on strike. Nevertheless some voiced concerns that if the strike was prolonged, a medical service vacuum might occur.

Lee Choong-ki (48), the head of the hospital administration department, said, “The only disruption today was longer waiting times than usual. However, if the strike continues for a long time, replacement workers’ fatigue may inevitably lead to a medical service vacuum.”

Umbrella Union Groups-

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) held “a rally of representatives of labor unions across the nation under umbrella union groups” with participation of around 3,000 workers (according to an estimate by the police) at Seoul station square in the afternoon. Both umbrella union groups criticized the labor policies of the government and said 303 worker members of the Labor Relations Commission would resign en masse.

Keuk-In Bae bae2150@donga.com mint4a@donga.com