Workers at hospital fear for their jobs

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Workers at hospital fear for their jobs

A fifth of the union members at Namwon Medical Center in North Jeolla Tuesday tore up their membership cards in fear that the union will resist restructuring to curb the hospital’s debts - which could lead to its closure.

The recent closure of Jinju Medical Center, another cash-bleeding public hospital, appears to have spooked them. South Gyeongsang Governor Hong Joon-pyo cited the union’s tough attitude as one of the factors behind that hospital’s closure.

“I fear the high-handedness of our union could stand in the way of management cutting the debt,” said Lee Ik-jae, a worker who has abandoned the union. “And then we will face the same fate as the Jinju Medical Center.”

The 40-year-old data processing worker added that the union abuses its power and a few key members decide whether to go on strike.

Namwon is 25.1 billion won ($ 21.85 million) in debt, making it the fifth-most heavily indebted institution among 34 state-run medical centers nationwide.

The workers leaving the union, 48 out of 250 union members, say the union wields significant authority over human resources and management. The group belongs to the Korea Health & Medical Workers’ Union, a member of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

Namwon Medical Center has a union security clause under which all employees are required to join the union or risk losing their jobs.

Workers remaining in the union denied accusations made by the workers who quit and said they are the ones being treated unfairly by management.

“The hospital keeps delaying the payments of our salaries,” a representative of the union said. “If we were really a militant trade union, how could this kind of thing possibly happen?”

On the other hand, bonuses for doctors have been paid regularly, the union representative said. “The bonuses amount to 1.5 billion won for the past five years.”

The union said it disagrees with the management’s restructuring plans.

“The management is now trying to scale down the number of emergency rooms and intensive care units and seeks to develop into a profit-making private institution,” the representative said.

The union maintains that the profitability and debt issue should not affect services at public hospitals while local governments say that any money-losing institution should be put under restructuring plans.

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