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Health workers plan strike, demanding more staff, support

Authorities in negotiation with union to prevent the strike slated for Sept. 2

Medical workers of Jeonbuk regional headquarters of the Korean Health and Medical workers’ Union holds a press conference in front of Jeonbuk Provincial Office on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Medical workers of Jeonbuk regional headquarters of the Korean Health and Medical workers’ Union holds a press conference in front of Jeonbuk Provincial Office on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
With public health workers warning of a strike, concerns are rising that hospitals already struggling with surge in patients could face series difficulties.

On Wednesday, 122 branches of the Korean Health and Medical workers’ Union (136 medical institutions) filed for a dispute settlement with the Labor Relations Commission. The union demanded an expansion of public health centers, medical workers, infrastructure and financial support.

If the union does not settle with the government in the next 15 days, it is proposing to go on strike on Sept. 2. A strike ballot among its 56,000 participating members already began on Wednesday to last until Aug. 26.

“Many people may be worried about the strike amid the pandemic,” said Na Soon-ja, chairman of the union.

“However, during the ‘With Coronavirus’ era, it is difficult for our society to handle (the situation) without expanding public health and medical personnel.”

The union said the situation was overwhelming for medical workers, as public hospitals, which account for less than 10 percent of all medical institutions, deal with 80 percent of confirmed cases of coronavirus.

In a union survey in March of 40,000 health and medical workers, including nurses, 69.6 percent of the respondents said they were physically exhausted.

In response, the government said it would do its best to negotiate.

“We are negotiating with the union with a positive direction on expanding public health care while agreeing on the importance of public health,” said Park Hyang, director at public health policy division at the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

“But there are difficulties in supplying manpower in the pandemic situation,” she said. ”We are doing our best to prevent the strike from proceeding so that there is no inconvenience in treating coronavirus patients or using medical institutions.”

Amid ongoing worries about exhausted medical workers, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus is continuing to soar.

As of Wednesday midnight, 2,152 new confirmed cases of coronavirus were reported. The number of daily confirmed cases exceeded 2,000 for the second time since Aug. 11.

The government will decide Friday whether to adjust the current curb on social distancing, which ends Sunday.

There was broad support for maintaining the current restrictions at an advisory committee meeting Wednesday.



By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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