Estonian doctors and nurses at the country’s biggest hospitals began a strike, demanding higher wages to stem an exodus of medical staff from the Baltic nation.
Three hospitals in the capital, Tallinn, and one in the second-biggest city, Tartu, halted outpatient services, except for those under 18, pregnant or oncological patients, according to statements on the hospitals’ websites today. They may stop inpatient care starting Oct. 8, while hospitals in four more towns may also join the strike.
Teachers went on strike in March to demand higher salaries as Estonia became the only euro-area nation to post budget surpluses in the last two years by freezing public wages. Doctors and nurses are leaving for countries such as Finland, where vacancies are increasing, salaries are four times higher and the language is closely related to Estonian. Workloads for staff who stay have been pushed too high, the unions say.
The unions demand an increase in the lowest hourly wages for doctors to 8.6 euros ($11.1) from 7.2 euros now, with a raise to 12 euros by 2014. Nurses want hourly wages raised to 7.7 euros in two years from 3.8 euros, and hospice workers seek an increase to 4.2 euros from 2.1 euros. The employers, financed by the Health Insurance Fund, last week offered a pay increase of 6.6 percent starting next year.
Prime Minister Andrus Ansip called unions’ demands “totally unrealistic” on Sept. 26. The Cabinet approved next year’s budget earlier last week to raise minimum monthly wages for teachers by up to 18 percent to 715 euros, compared with an overall increase in public salaries of 4.4 percent.