First ever nationwide hospital strike in the Netherlands
On Wednesday, November 20, 100.000 hospital staff will refuse to perform any non-emergency duties. Trade unions have called on their members to strike in an effort to increase pay and reduce working hours.
Trade unions call for a nationwide strike
Four trade unions, FNV, FBZ, NU’91 and CNV have launched the national campaign to strike over ongoing negotiations with the Dutch Association of Hospitals (NVZ). The collective unions cover around 200.000 employees at 83 different hospitals around the country. The unions estimate that at least half of the hospitals will participate in the nationwide strike; the first of its kind in the Netherlands. Academic hospitals are not included, however, as their staff are not covered by the same employment contract.
While on strike, hospital staff will be on hand in case of emergencies, cancer treatments and operations on children. However, they will refuse to perform any of their non-emergency duties. The trade unions are asking for a five percent structural wage increase for 2019 and extra allowance on wages when employees are called to work last-minute. They also want agreements concerning heavy staff workloads, as well as the retention of employees.
Negotiations have been long ongoing. A breakdown in talks occurred in June, which lead to the first instances of labour action in July. Sunday shifts ran all week-long, meaning that certain areas of the hospitals, including operating rooms, nursing and radiology departments were closed for non-emergency cases and scheduled operations were cancelled. According to estimations from the FNV, around 20.000 patients were affected by this.
The NVZ offered a new proposal to the unions at the end of September, which included a 4 percent pay rise for all staff in 2020 and 2021, as well as an increase in irregularity allowance from January 1st, 2020. This amounts to an additional 2,5 percent rise in pay for nurses. The proposal also included an increase in internship allowance and an expense allowance for student-doctors, however, the unions rejected the proposal.
The unions rejected the proposal as it only amounted to a 2,8 percent average wage increase over 34 months. They also claimed that the NVZ would like to stop the employer’s contribution to health insurance, potentially costing hospital staff hundreds of euros a year. The NVZ were surprised at the rejection of their proposal. Gita Gallè, chairman of the NVZ hospital delegation, expressed her disappointment saying that, “with this proposal, we have gone to great lengths to meet the wishes of the unions.”
The battle for increased healthcare spending
The chairman of the NVZ, Ad Melkert, wrote a letter to the Cabinet at the end of August. In this letter, he stated that the government needed to provide 200 million euros to facilitate the wage increase in the collective labour agreement. However, the minister for Medical Care, Bruno Bruins, said that they would not be supplying the money.
Melkert also stated in his letter why the hospitals cannot supply the increased wages. As per an agreement with the government, hospitals may increase expenditure by 1,7 percent in the coming years, however, the demand for care grows by 2,5 percent each year.
Due to an ageing population, the demands on the healthcare system are higher than ever before. Costs have risen to around 80 billion per year. To help lower expenditure, the government has signed agreements with care institutions and health insurers; the most recent of which was to limit the increase of expenditure in 2022 to zero.