Cross-posted from AFL-CIO Blog, August 20, 2010
Alexander Feltham of the Solidarity Center reports on the struggle of health care workers in Ukraine to gain better conditions for patients and a decent contract.
The global economic crisis has had a severe impact in eastern Ukraine, where Soviet-era mines and steel mills dominate the economy. The health care system in eastern Ukraine, which desperately needs updating, is starved by unrealistically low budgets and funding that is routinely siphoned off by rampant corruption.
The small Independent Trade Union of Medical Workers (ITUMW), an affiliate of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (CFTUU), is emerging as the driving force for improving the quality of health care and living standards for medical workers in Ukraine. Its growing influence is due in part to the continued support from the international labor movement, including training and technical assistance from the Solidarity Center.
Recently, a joint team from the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center’s Washington and Kyiv offices visited Zaporizhia, a city of 750,000 in eastern Ukraine, to visit clinics and hospitals and meet with local union leaders and medical workers.
The doctors and nurses showed the team crumbling facilities that lack basic infrastructure, including heat, air conditioning, and adequate lighting. Ambulance crews reported responding to calls with broken equipment and doctors recalled carrying patients up three flights of stairs to surgery during frequent elevator outages.
Wages also are very low, with starting monthly wages for many workers set at the equivalent of $112, and new doctors earn $212. Not surprisingly, many qualified medical professionals are leaving Ukraine for better wages and working conditions.
In Zaporizhia, union members have pressured hospital administrators to begin basic repairs and upgrades, including replacing aging windows, installing showers for patients and obtaining insurance for ambulance crews. In fact, the local union in Zaporizhia recently negotiated its most favorable collective bargaining agreement in 30 years, winning a night shift differential and a clause to protect contract integrity.
Despite these gains, serious challenges remain. Union members are regularly harassed by hospital administrators. Doctors who speak out are denied promotions and their hours and salaries are cut. Administrators have bribed patients to complain about doctors who are active union members.