South Korean health workers’ union threatens nationwide strike in September
Two thousand members of UNI Global Union affiliate, the Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union (KHMU), rallied outside the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Seoul on 23 June as the union declared it would hold a nationwide industry strike on 2 September unless the government takes action to improve health services in the country.
The union is demanding “an infectious disease response system, stronger public medical services and more medical staff.” The union says strike action is legitimate to protect the health and life of all in Korea. There are only limited numbers of public hospitals and medical facilities in Korea and workers have been under severe pressure during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking at the rally, KHMU President Na Soon-ja stressed that the situation for health workers pre- and post-COVID-19 must change.
“First, our work at the frontline should be compensated. The core of compensations should include an increase in staffing levels and improvement in working conditions.”
Secondly, she demanded expansion of public medical services: “National medical centres, regional medical centres, national university hospitals and public hospitals for special purposes should be funded to secure a sufficient staffing level. The government should also support private university hospitals and small and medium sized medical institutions when the services that those hospitals provide serves the general public.”
On 31 May KHMU began its first-ever bargaining session with the government following a strike by of 80,000 union members. “No struggle, no gain,” she declared reminding the crowd how strong action had led to results.
Rajendra Acharya, UNI Asia & Pacific Regional Secretary said, “These workers are not only standing up for the conditions and compensation they deserve, but they are demanding changes to protect public health. UNI is with them, and joins their call for essential improvements.”
KHMU is calling on the government to:
- establish an infectious disease response system
- solve the low staffing level issues
- improve the current shift-work policies and introduce the 4-day workweek system
- fully implement the Act on Health and Medical Personnel
- root out illegal medical practices
- secure a sufficient level of budget for extensive public medical services
- provide life and safety allowance to medical staff at the frontline fighting against COVID-19
- convert contract or part-time job positions to permanent or full-time positions
- make a legal framework for industry-level collective bargaining.
At the rally, union members from Gachon University Gil Medical Centre shared their experiences as workers and contract worker members at Busan National University Hospital appealed to the public to urge the government to turn casual working positions into permanent ones. These non-regular workers have been protesting at tent outside the Ministry of Education for several weeks.