Unionized workers at one of the oldest and biggest hospitals in South Korea launched a two-day strike Monday morning, demanding the government cancel its recent push to “privatize medical services” in the country.
Some 400 to 500 members of the Seoul National University Hospital’s union are participating in the strike, which is taking place following a one-day strike back in June. The union has some 1,500 workers.
The strike is the union’s response to the Health Ministry’s recent decision to allow hospitals to set up for-profit subsidiaries in an effort to promote medical tourism.
“SNUH is a public hospital,” the union said. “But the hospital is taking a major role in the government’s plan to privatize medical services, by pushing for medical tourism projects and launching a for-profit subsidiary.”
SNUH in 2012 launched its controversial, profit-oriented subsidiary, HealthConnect, which was a joint venture with SK Telecom ― a major wireless telecommunications operator.
The venture, which aims to provide healthcare services based on information technology, has been criticized by the public for being illegal. No public hospital was allowed to run commercial businesses back in 2012, according to the nation’s Medical Act.
The hospital and the Health Ministry have been arguing that the subsidiary was launched based on the Establishment of the SNUH Act, a special law that is independent from the Medical Act.
Inspectors from the National Assembly, however, concluded earlier this month that “the SNUH is categorized as a public institution,” and it was illegal for the hospital to establish the for-profit business.
According to the government’s revised bill, which was announced in June, medical clinics will be allowed to open inside “meditels,” local hostels for foreign medical tourists, starting in August.
Medical outfits will also be able to run facilities such as fitness centers, public bathhouses and venues for medical conferences.
Protesting against the revised bill, the union held a street rally in Seoul’s Daehangno district on Monday afternoon. They are also scheduled to hold another rally hosted by the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions on Tuesday.
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)