Health minister’s political career “rides on striking deal”
Portugal’s medical unions are back at the negotiating table with the ministry of health in a week already marked by a two-day strike and two demonstrations in defence of the Portuguese State health service.
At the last negotiating meeting, the minister of health presented the independent doctors’ union (SIM) and the national doctors’ federation (Fnam) with a proposal that includes a new remuneration structure and a supplement of €500 per month for doctors who work in accident and emergency departments as well as the possibility of opting for a 35-hour week.
At the end of the meeting, unions acknowledged the apparent opening up of the ministry, but reserved final judgement on investigation of the small print (which has yet to be explained).
In the absence of ‘final details’, the strikes scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday went ahead (and today, outside parliament, there is another strike by the nation’s union of dentists).
FNAM, which called the two-day strike which finished at 00.00 hours today, said that the 90% turnout reflected the lack of confidence doctors have in the ministry of health‘s policies.
What the syndicate insists is that any pay increases must be across the board for all doctors (whether they work in emergency departments or not) “and not at the expense of allowances and supplements”.
SIM meantime warned that without access to the small print of the ministry’s latest offer, “there is still an ocean separating the two sides“.
For SIM’s leader Jorge Roque da Cunha, “it’s not enough for the government to announce a proposal, there must be concrete measures in relation to what is announced”.
FNAM’s leader, Joana Bordalo e Sá, guarantees that “the national doctors’ federation is acting in good faith” in these negotiations, but it all boils down to transparency. The federation wants a written proposal and “wants to know what the government has decided to legislate unilaterally in the Council of Ministers on the new full dedication regime to the National Health Service and the issue of Family Health Units”.
In Olhão yesterday, health minister Manuel Pizarro, was at pains to explain that his proposal to increase doctors’ salaries by up to 50% cannot be devalued.
“I think that all Portuguese people, including doctors, are aware that when we are proposing salary increases, which in some cases are 23%, in other cases 32% and in other cases […] the increase is really 50%. We’re not talking about increases that can be devalued,” were his words.
The minister assured that he will also draw up “a document with greater technical detail” than the one that has already been distributed and said that it is not the lack of this text “that will prevent the conclusion of the negotiations”, which he hopes will reach a “satisfactory conclusion” (when was left hanging).
FNAM has thus scheduled a new strike for November 14-15, on the basis that today’s negotiations may go the way of the failing talks before them.
In addition to strikes, doctors are also waging work-to-rules on overtime that have been deepening the sense of chaos in the State health system.
A breakthrough today would be the best news possible. As critics have remarked, the political career of Manuel Pizarro is on the line here. If he cannot strike a lasting deal with doctors, his relevance as the ‘top man’ at the health ministry will take a mighty battering.