Health workers, gov’t in last-minute talks as strike deadline nears

SEOUL-- Unionized health workers and health authorities were in last-ditch talks Wednesday to make a compromise on key contentious issues as front-line professionals have warned of staging a nationwide strike later this week to call for improved conditions amid the pandemic.

The Korean Health and Medical Workers' Union (KHMU), representing more than 56,000 nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals, have voted to begin a nationwide walkout Thursday.

The KHMU and the government have had 12 rounds of talks so far since May but have failed to narrow their differences, stoking concerns that the strike could burden the country's health care system and fight against the COVID-19 virus.

The workers have demanded the government improve the working conditions of health care workers, and increase the number of public hospitals and their medical personnel.

The KHMU also argued that a growing number of front-line nurses and health care workers are suffering from burnout due to a chronic workforce shortage and insufficient benefits despite tight schedules.

The KHMU represents a total of 56,091 nurses, medical engineers, nursing aides and other health workers at hospitals and medical clinics nationwide. The union excludes doctors.

The government expects around 30 percent of KHMU members to take part in the planned strike, excluding the essential workforce in emergency rooms, intensive care units, delivery rooms and others.

Workers at around 104 medical facilities across the country, including major hospitals and hospitals in charge of infectious diseases, are expected to participate in the strike.

The union's move comes as a growing number of nurses in public health clinics have quit or taken temporary leave since last year due to cumulative fatigue and mental stress amid the prolonged pandemic.

On Wednesday, the country added 2,025 more COVID-19 cases, bouncing back to over 2,000, with the more transmissible delta strain rising sharply ahead of a major holiday this month. The total caseload increased to 253,445.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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