Moscow Health Care Employees Warn They Could Join Nationwide Strike
MOSCOW (AP) _ Angry health care workers picketed Russian government headquarters today, threatening a full-scale strike if their demands for better wages, benefits and equipment are not met.
Doctors, nurses and ambulance workers have been protesting from Siberia to Smolensk for over a week, saying their salaries are miserly, their workplaces unsanitary and their equipment dated.
″A hungry doctor is not a healer,″ read one sign at today’s protest.
As the centrally planned economy is transformed, Russia’s free but long abysmal health care system is rapidly deteriorating. Although some private centers have opened recently, few people can afford them.
About 100,000 of Moscow’s 340,000 health care workers have threatened to join a nationwide walk-out Monday, according to Vyacheslav Mikulin, a protest organizer. If the strike does take place, it could cripple Russia’s health care industry.
Doctors have traditionally been among the lowest-paid professionals in Russia, earning about 920 rubles a month, according to Mikhail Kuzmenko, chairman of the Union of Medical Workers. The average monthly Russian salary is about 1,000 rubles.
A full shutdown of medical services began a week ago in Magadan, in the far East, and on Monday in Udmurtiya in the western Ural Mountains, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
Mikulin said about 150 people picketed today outside the Staraya Ploshchad, or Old Square. The building once was the headquarters of the former Communist Party Central Committee and now houses Russia’s Cabinet ministers and their staffs.
Dr. Leon M. Akopov, another protest organizer, said Moscow ambulance workers had decided to postpone any mass walkout until May 12 in hopes of reaching an accord.
″It is not our final goal to deprive all Muscovites of vital medical aid,″ he said.
At least 5,000 people use ambulance services in Moscow each day, the Rossiiskiye Vesti newspaper reported today. It quoted Kuzmenko as saying 70 percent to 80 percent of all Moscow ambulances were in severe disrepair.
Of Moscow’s 3,000 ambulance medics, 1,200 have already left their jobs because of poor working conditions, he said.