Members of the Korean Health and Medical Workers' Union hold a news conference in front of Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Tuesday, to call on the government to increase compensation for medical workers at COVID-19-fighting public hospitals. (Yonhap)
A local medical workers' union on Tuesday called for greater government attention to increasing financial compensation for frontline health workers fighting the coronavirus pandemic, saying insufficient remuneration for nurses, in particular, threatens the operations of public hospitals and other hub-hospitals for COVID-19.
The Korean Health and Medical Workers' Union held a news conference in front of the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in central Seoul to call for immediate measures to expand nursing manpower at the dedicated COVID-19 hospitals nationwide and improve their working conditions.
The union, under the wing of the militant umbrella group Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, expressed particular concern about the slow pace of nursing manpower increase at COVID-19-only hospitals and a wide pay gap between nurses at public hospitals and private sector nurses temporarily dispatched there by the government.
Nurses at COVID-19-only public hospitals are reportedly being paid less than a third of the salary and allowances of government-dispatched nurses who are paid 400,000 won (US$364) per working day.
Unable to endure the enormous pay gap, a growing number of public hospital nurses have quit to work as dispatched nurses, adding to the manpower shortage.
"At a public medical center in charge of COVID-19 patients in Gyeonggi Province, as many as seven nurses have quit this month alone. The government's reluctance to fairly compensate public hospital nurses is feared to further accelerate their exodus," the medical workers' union said.
"It is estimated that the government has spent about 10 billion won a month on the hiring of dispatched nurses since February last year. The huge budget was supposed to have been spent to sharply increase the number of medical workers at COVID-19 hub-hospitals," it argued.
It then lamented that President Moon Jae-in's pledge last September to expand nursing manpower at public hospitals and improve their work environment has not been implemented properly.
Faced with the growing criticism over the nurses' pay gap, the government announced earlier this week that nurses at COVID-19-only public hospitals will be paid an additional allowance of 50,000 won a day. The government also said it will triple the amount of COVID-19-related night allowance for nurses to over 120,000 per shift beginning this week.
The medical workers' union, however, said that the measures may not be sufficient to quell the discontent of the concerned nurses, while raising fears that the increased night allowances can be diverted to the finances of hospitals.
Moreover, a large number of other medical workers, including nursing assistants, medical technicians and quarantine personnel, were excluded from the latest government measures, it noted.
The union then suggested that the payment of regular danger allowance to nurses, for instance, and increased financial support for debt-laden public hospitals can be among the plausible countermeasures. (Yonhap)