“While there are attempts to suggest that the collective agreement signed with other employees covers all employees and restricts further steps we might take, we are now basically within our right to go on strike,” she said.
Kannus explained that the union has proposed the nursing development agreement as a way to avoid a strike. “We need certainty in that the state sees and understands needs for developments in healthcare. Working conditions need to be improved and healthcare workers treated equally.”
The goal is to reach an agreement before the end of summer. “Failing that, we need to consider our next steps one of which is preparing for a strike,” Kannus said.
Valid agreement a hindrance
Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center Party) said the ministry will surely address the nurses’ proposal. “It is sensible to discuss these proposals on a broad base in the interests of a comprehensive agreement in healthcare,” the minister said.
Kiik added that there is an existing healthcare collective agreement the nurses have not joined. “It is very difficult to hold separate negotiations with one of the parties on the side. The remaining parties have already agreed on a collective agreement for the next two years,” he said.
The Medical Emergency Union sees common elements with EÕL, especially concerning the matter of specialist nurses. “The Medical Emergency Union finds it important to give heads of nurses’ brigades with specialist nurse training a higher hourly rate, and we value training for all medical emergency personnel,” said union head Lilian Lääts. The board of the union will convene to shape its official position in August.
The Estonian Hospital Association pointed out that medical workers already have a valid collective agreement that also covers nursing salaries and working conditions. “The public conciliator urged all sides to join the agreement. Unfortunately, the nurses’ union has still not signed the agreement and has decided to pursue separate negotiations,” chairman of the board Urmas Sule said, adding that more favorable working conditions agreed on in the document will nevertheless apply to nurses from April 1.
The union will discuss the nurses’ project and send in comments and proposals, Sule promised.
“It has recently been the good practice of the Estonian healthcare sector for all sides to sign the collective agreement,” Rain Laane, head of the Estonian Health Insurance Fund, said, adding that it did not happen in full this year. “The main issue is the role of specialist nurses and their pay, while it is something that cannot be put to bed without consulting all parties,” he said.
Laane assured Postimees that communication with EÕL is ongoing and that he hopes no one is considering a strike in today’s crisis. “The pace of introducing new activities might not be equally acceptable for all sides,” he said.