Union strikes at SNU Hospital

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Union strikes at SNU Hospital


A patient yesterday looks on as labor union members strike at Seoul National University Hospital. Negotiations between the union and management broke down early yesterday morning. The labor union demanded a basic salary raise of 209,000 won (274 dollar) and full employment status for contract workers. The management rejected the demands, saying the hospital will be run under emergency management. By Oh Jong-taek

Union workers at three branches of Seoul National University Hospital staged a walkout early yesterday morning following a breakdown in negotiations between workers and hospital management. The two sides failed to reach an agreement about wage increases and improved working conditions.

About 400 of the union’s 1,400 members joined the strike, which started around 5 a.m., while key staff for the emergency room and intensive care unit remained on the job.

It was the first time in six years that the hospital’s labor union staged a strike. In October 2007, the labor union staged a protest that stalled hospital operations for six days.

The early-morning strike affected three of the hospital’s medical facilities. Workers at Seoul National University Hospital in Yeongeon-dong, Jongno District, central Seoul; the hospital’s Healthcare System Gangnam Center in southern Seoul; and Boramae Medical Center of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, which is run by the university hospital, walked out of their jobs.

Hundreds of the protesting union members staged a sit-in in the lobby of Seoul National University Hospital after holding a press conference yesterday morning. They said the move was inevitable to improve medical services for the patients rather than increasing profits for the hospital.

No major disruptions were reported at the hospitals yesterday. Outpatient services were slowed down, but emergency services were not affected.

The hospital said it would do its best to minimize the aftermath of the strike by hiring alternative workers to deliver patients’ meals and perform administrative tasks. It also planned to create new work schedules with non-union employees.

Speculation surfaced months ago that hospital workers might strike. The union had been negotiating with the hospital since June through 40 rounds of talks, but the two parties ultimately failed to reach an agreement. Union workers demanded a 13.7 percent wage increase and improvements in working conditions. They also demanded that the hospital upgrade the contracts of 1,143 temporary workers.

The conflict worsened after management declared a fiscal emergency in August, cutting the budgets for each department.

From Oct. 10 to Oct. 15, the union conducted a vote, with 90 percent of its members casting ballots. The strike was approved by 94 percent.

The union alleged that the hospital had made a profit over the past five years but still called for a wage freeze while making unnecessary cuts. It also said the hospital was forcing workers and patients to shoulder the burden of its poor management decisions.

The hospital, however, claimed the union was distorting the truth by insisting the business was profitable. It also said that the budget cuts and wage freeze were inevitable to turn around the business situation.

The hospital said its projected loss will be 68 billion won ($64.3 million) this year. According to a report by Democratic Party Representative Oh Jae-sae, Seoul National University Hospital recorded a deficit of 540 million won in 2011 and 12.7 billion won in 2012.

BY SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr ]
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