[EDITORIALS]Strike hurts patientsRiot police on Wednesday broke up strikes at Kangnam St. Mary's Hospital and Kyunghee University Medical Center. The strikes by the Korean Health and Medical Workers Union, which have lasted 112 days at eight hospitals nationwide, face a new juncture.
We demand an immediate end to the time- and energy-consuming conflicts between the management and labor at hospitals, which put patients at risk. We ask labor and management to return to the negotiation table and the government to play an active role as arbiter.
The strikes, which initially were aimed at improving working conditions, have turned into emotional battles. In the beginning, the issues were pay raises, better employment conditions for temporary workers, and increases in the hospitals' share of payments for teacher pensions, the only retirement safety net for non-doctor workers at hospitals operated by private universities. Labor ended up resorting to "illegal" strikes, after rejecting arbitration by the National Labor Relations Commission. The focus of the arguments then shifted to the issues of hospitals not paying wages to workers during the strike and their seeking legal action against labor union leaders. The labor argues that hospitals are abusing labor laws that classify a hospital as "essential public facility," which means if the labor commission is in arbitration, going out on a strike is illegal. Management has stuck to the argument that the strike is illegal. In the process, hospitals have taken legal action against union leaders, seizing the property of unions and wages of union members. As the strikes drag on, patients have become victims.
The labor union deserves criticism for demonstrating loudly in hospitals. Only 40 percent to 60 percent of hospital rooms are being used, and surgeries have been delayed because of a shortage of staff. The hospitals must accept some of the blame, because they have not tried to hold talks, sticking to illegal-strike theories.
Labor has vowed expanded action. In this case, patients will suffer more.
Labor and management should restart talks. Government must try to arbitrate an accord, since hospitals are "special public facilities."