Polish nurses camp to protest starvation wages

25th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

25 June 2007, Warsaw (dpa) - She has worked 29 years day and night, on holiday and weekends caring for patients - yet Elzbieta, a Polish nurse and mother of two, still can't make ends meet. "After all these years and so much hard work I take home 1,400 zloty (500 dollars) a month - this starvation salary for the hard work of nursing is really a joke," says the 50-year-old brunette dressed in a white nurses' cap. Salaries in the public health sector lag far behind the average 2,500 zloty (900 dollars) month

25 June 2007

Warsaw (dpa) - She has worked 29 years day and night, on holiday and weekends caring for patients - yet Elzbieta, a Polish nurse and mother of two, still can't make ends meet.

"After all these years and so much hard work I take home 1,400 zloty (500 dollars) a month - this starvation salary for the hard work of nursing is really a joke," says the 50-year-old brunette dressed in a white nurses' cap.

Salaries in the public health sector lag far behind the average 2,500 zloty (900 dollars) monthly wage in 2004 European Union entrant Poland.

Four days ago Elzbieta left her job and her family in far-away Mielec, southern Poland, to join around a 1,000 nurses from across the country camped out in front of the Prime Minister's Chancellery in the capital Warsaw.

Nurses have pitched hundreds of tents, turning a long green a leafy walkway across the street from central government offices into a camp ground, complete with portable cook-out and sanitary facilities.

Miners, teachers and other public sector workers have voiced support for the protest camp, which has grown rapidly since being pitched a week ago.

Across the street from the impromptu camp, a solid cordon of shiny silver metal barricades has been erected around the Prime Minister's Chancellery. Police officers clad in bullet-proof vests, white helmets and black riot gear stand on guard behind the barricade.

Passersby chuckle at the heavy-handed security measures imposed to counter the peaceful nurses' protest.

Health workers union officials said Monday they intend to keep the protest camp running until mid-August. Four nurses are also occupying the Prime Minister's Chancellery, refusing to leave despite threats of legal action against them for what Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski describes as an "illegal occupation."

"We'll have to file a criminal complaint with prosecutors," Kaczynski told reporters about possible steps against the nurses.

But rattling water bottles filled with pebbles or coins, hundreds of protesting nurses demanding wage increases think the chronic under-funding of Poland's public health sector is criminal.

Last week Premier Kaczynski said higher wages in the health sector could come only after a significant tax hikes - especially for the most wealthy Poles. He also proposed the decision on tax hikes be taken to a public referendum.

Opposition politician have criticised the idea of a tax referendum as socially divisive and untenable while financial experts agree the Kaczynski government should instead push ahead with an overhaul of Poland's lumbering public administration in order to free up cash for health spending.

After 25 years on her feet in hospitals, nurse Anna is bitter at what she sees as the unsympathetic response of the Kaczynski government. She mulls following in the footsteps of thousands of Polish nurses who found better-paid jobs in Western Europe after Poland's 2004 entry into the European Union.

"We can either leave Poland for higher wages in Great Britain or Ireland or Germany or stay home and demand better salaries - a lot of us have chosen to emigrate, many of us want to - but not all of us can go," she observes.

DPA

Subject: German news

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