Czech Association of Medical and Social Care Trade Unions – A union of strikes and protests

Dagmar Zitnikova, representative of the Czech Association of Medical and Social Care Trade Unions, boasts the fact that they managed to stop the privatization of some healthcare institutions in the Czech Republic. She calls the prevention of the privatization, attained only through several major strikes and protests organized in Prague, as the union’s greatest achievement.

“The greatest success was to prevent the largest privatization in the healthcare sector. We have held many protests and demonstrations, and in collaboration with the confederation we managed to oppose these attempts,” she said during a presentation of the work of her union.

“Our trade union is active, energetic and well-organized; we call for protests and strikes to achieve our goals,” added Zitinkova. “Our initial approach is to always try to reach an agreement, but if that is not possible, then we will find others ways to protect our rights.”

Unionists here work without any compensation. “About 90 percent of unionists work as volunteers in the union,” she explained.

The Association of Medical and Social Care Trade Unions has approximately 28 thousand members, who are organized within 367 trade unions. Members of the union work in clinics, hospitals, social services etc. This extended network provides more opportunities for trade union members themselves.

The President of UITUK, Haxhi Arifi, told the Czech colleagues that in the Republic of Kosovo there are around 15 thousand employees in the healthcare sector, 10 thousand out of which are union members. This information was applauded by the representatives of Association of Medical and Social Care Trade Unions.

“The healthcare trade union is the second largest after that of education, and it is a member of European networks. Cooperation between Czech and Kosovar unions should be expanded,” added Arifi.

Training of its members is one of the missions of the Association of Medical and Social Care Trade Unions. Training takes place in two forms. The first to be trained are nurses who are obliged to train constantly. Secondly, all union members who work in the private sector are trained. Their training is very specific, since the main purpose is to increase their negotiation skills vis-à-vis their employer. The training for the private sector is done because to overcome the limited access the union has there for negotiating on the improvement of working conditions or wage increases for the workers.   

 “We have problems in the private sector and negotiations are difficult for those organizations under our jurisdiction operating in this sector. However, the allocation of funds for salary increases includes coverage of health insurance, thus our negotiating position was quite good”, said Zitnikova.

This trade union has managed to ensure that by 2016 the largest increase in wages at national level will be disbursed. “Our first demand was for administration salaries to be increased by 5 percent, while salaries of direct care providers by 10 percent”, she explained. “The negotiations resulted in a 5 percent increase of salaries for direct care providers, whereas other suppliers of public service obtained a 3 percent increase”.

Negotiations for salary increase have been made easier for this trade union because of the leftist orientation of the current Czech government. “In terms of wages, we carry out negotiations with the government, municipalities, prefectures and private businesses. Now we are in a better condition compared to the two previous years, because we have a leftist government and negotiations are easily conducted with this government”.

The representative of the Association of Medical and Social Care Trade Unions was also interested in the organization model of trade unions in Kosovo. The president of UITUK explained about the trade unions in Kosovo can form federations, which in turn can form confederations. The only confederation in Kosovo is the Union of Independent Trade Unions of Kosovo. “After many talks and negotiations we managed to merge the two existing confederations into a single one. Now we are among the few states that have only one Trade Union confederation”, said Arifi. 

Zitkova confirmed that even in the Czech Republic the organization model is very similar. She added that unions are part of the tripartite council on social dialogue, together with the government and employers’ organizations. They cooperate with the Ministry of Labour and that of Healthcare to solve problems. Also, Zitkova showed briefly how the collective agreement is negotiated and, eventually, signed.

“We give unions a draft collective agreement, and then support each union in drafting and signing a collective agreement with their employer. We send a lawyer and an economist to draft and negotiate collective agreements”, she explained.

Collective agreements have been signed in Kosovo as well. The general (national) one was signed only a few weeks before the governmental elections of 2014. Many points of this agreement are not implemented yet. Even when the agreement was signed, it was heavily criticized since it doesn’t bring any additional benefit for workers, as compared with the Law on Labour, with the exception of the daily meal for workers.

“Through collective agreements we try to go beyond what the Labour Law already provides for, such as benefits for night shifts, compensation of dangerous work, work during the holidays, but also benefits related to pensions, leisure time or other holidays, maternity benefits and gifts for employees who retire," added Zitnikova.

Kosovo has not managed to functionalize the health insurance system. Final preparations are being made before launching it. Unionists from Kosovo had many questions about health insurance in the Czech Republic.

“Health insurance is compulsory in the Czech Republic. The employer is responsible for paying it on behalf of the employees, for a value equal to 9 percent of the gross salary, while the employees themselves pay 4.5 per cent of their gross salary. For children and unemployed people, health insurance is covered by the state,” she explained.

Social security is also paid in the Czech Republic. “Social security is mandatory; those funds are used to pay pensions and other contributions for family member. Social security amounts to 24 percent of the gross salary wages and is paid by the employee. Within the budget there are specific budget lines where finances from social security are collected”.

Sick leave was also one of the issues discussed during the meeting. The first three days of sick leave in the Czech Republic are not compensated. This practice was established by the previous right wing government. Currently, unions are lobbying to fix this issue. For the first two weeks of sick leave, the salary is reimbursed by the employer; if the sick leave lasts more, then the state compensates the salary to the employee for an amount equal to 60 percent of the salary.

“After a year-long sick leave, when the medical term ends, the employee must be examined by a doctor. After doctor’s ascertainment, the employee’s period of rest may be extended for an extra three months, for a total of 15 months, or they may be granted disability status”, said Zitnikova.   

Maternity leave in the Czech Republic can last up to 36 months. For the first six months, the employee receives full salary. But in the following months the state compensates a social assistance of 3,709 thousand Czech crowns (about 135 euros).

Visar Prebreza
Prague, October 2015