Wednesday marked a week since nurses from the Nationwide Union of Nurses and Midwives union (OZZPiP) occupied a section of the Sejm, Poland’s parliament. It was also the second day of a hunger strike for five women.
The nurses are protesting an amendment to the law on medical services adopted by the Sejm last Friday, which would make it easier for hospitals to hire staff on temporary contracts.
OZZPiP has said that an increase in temporary contracts would lead to fewer rights for nurses, longer working hours, greater job instability and less time for patients.
But the Ministry of Health has countered that restricting hospitals’ rights to employ nurses via temporary contracts would be unconstitutional, as it would infringe on the freedom of choice. Other members of the nursing profession are siding with it.
Elżbieta Wrona, president of the smaller Polish Nurses and Midwives Association, was among them. OZZPiP’s position, she told the Polish Press Agency (PAP), is incomprehensible. In her experience, temporary work contracts allow for more flexibility. She added that limiting the ability to work via such contracts would be tantamount to limiting civil liberties.
Maria Ochman, the president of the Solidarity trade union’s Health Protection Secretariat, agrees that temporary contracts are “a plague,” but she said her organization had decided they were not the main threat emanating from the new law, and would not join OZZPiP in their protests.
“The new law creates a much more serious threat: subjecting health care to the rules of the market,” she was quoted by PAP as saying.
Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled in 2005 that prohibiting temporary contract employment of nurses and midwives in health-care facilities was unconstitutional. However, the Tribunal also noted that while contractual employment could not be completely prohibited, it would be advisable to limit it.
Negotiations between OZZPiP and Health Minister Ewa Kopacz broke off on Sunday. In the meantime Dorota Gardias, head of the union, has resigned.
The Sejm is scheduled to discuss the legislation again on March 30.