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Nurses' protest in Bulgaria – is it a matter of justified trade union demands

Photo: BGNES

Amid high public concern about the risk of the spread of the coronavirus in Bulgaria, the country’s health sector is also shaken by social concussions. Nurses continue their protests with demands for a pay increase that was promised to them last year. The protest culminated in a demonstrative occupation of one of the Bulgarian Parliament's halls on Thursday night. At the same time, CITUB (Confederation of Independent Trade Unions) is launching new negotiations for higher wages across the entire healthcare sector in Bulgaria. Following the signing of the National Framework Agreement, contracts will also be concluded with the new counterparties of the Health Fund, and only then will the wages of nurses in hospital care be specified.

CITUB estimates that in order to increase the salaries of all health care professionals working in child and school healthcare to BGN 900 leva, a total of 8.5 million leva will be needed. In fact, the level of BGN 900 has already been reached for nurses in day nurseries in 26 municipalities and in school medical offices in 31 municipalities. CITUB even claims that in Burgas, Knezha, Sandanski, Sopot, Byala and Dobrich, remuneration already exceeds BGN 900. Lower salaries, between BGN 610 and 700, continue to be received by nurses and medical specialists in 40 municipalities and in schools in 65 municipalities.

In Sofia, which employs 2,000 out of a total of 11,000 nurses across the country, an increase of BGN 264 has been agreed, but the collective agreement with Sofia municipality has not yet been signed. Municipalities co-finance higher salaries of medical professionals, but in many places collective agreements with mayors cannot be signed due to lack of funds.

According to the latest data provided by the National Union of Secondary Nursing Staff in France, a beginner nurse there receives an average of € 1,700 gross salary (€ 1,450 net). According to the local branch organizations, there is a serious reduction in these salaries compared to the 1990s, when these medical workers used to receive twice the minimum wage for the country and now their net salaries have decreased to 1.2 times the minimum wage. In the UK, nurses take gross remuneration of around £ 2,000, or about € 2,300. The average wage for nurses and paramedics in Germany exceeds the minimum wage by about 13% and in Spain by 28%.

Late last week, nurses' protests culminated in a dramatic blockade of several nurses in parliament. It should be noted, however, that CITUB and the Bulgarian Medical Association have clearly dissociated themselves from these extreme actions. The unions even openly urged the government not to succumb to what they called an act of “street racketeering” and described the actions of the nurses in question as “anarcho-syndicalism”.

On the parliamentary control sitting on Friday, problems in the country’s healthcare sector have sparked much heated debate. Even the opposition has said that the demands of some nurses for remuneration equal to two national minimum wages is absolutely impossible to fulfill because it would oppose one social group to another.

The country’s Minister of Labour and Social Policy Denitsa Sacheva reaffirmed that the government would not accept the terms of the nurses who barricaded themselves in parliament but continued to be ready for a civilized dialogue with the medical profession. So, after months of protests and debate, the problem still remains open.

English Rossitsa Petcova

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