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Hospital workers struggle for new accord
[source: Korea Herald 2008-07-29 12:40]
Unionized hospital workers and management had their final round of negotiations yesterday, hoping to hammer out a last-minute agreement and prevent a general strike.

The meeting, which continued late last night, was arranged by the National Labor Relations Commission. The Korea Health and Medical Workers` Union - affiliated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions - and their management struggled to reach a compromise on wage increases.

If talks were unsuccessful, the union was to go ahead with their initially planned general strike, which would involve a walkout by more than 38,000 hospital workers, starting as early as today.

About 9.8 percent of hospitals and 13.4 percent of hospital beds across the nation are projected to be impacted by the workers` action.

Unionized hospital workers are pressing for a 7.5 percent increase, while management is holding to a maximum increase of 2.2 percent.

However, they were reported to be near a compromise on a 4-5 percent hike as of yesterday afternoon.

Other issues include recruiting more hospital workers, enhancing the medical facility evaluation system and banning U.S. beef at hospitals.

Hospital workers and management have so far deferred the deadline for talks six times since April 30. Both sides reached an agreement on 74 out of a total of 86 different union requests, leaving some possibility of stopping the collective action from being taken.

Earlier on Saturday, the union and its management held another round of practical talks, but produced no fruitful outcome.

"Although the deadline was extended for additional negotiations, the management did not make any requests to hold further discussion," the union said. "Even when the talks were organized by the labor relations commission, the management failed to present an improved plan for wage negotiation and it didn`t show effort to minimize the wage increase gap with us."

The last deadline was extended on Thursday as the two parties made little progress on key issues. Some 38,641 employees at 122 hospitals went back to work, waiting for the negotiating parties to reach a conclusion.

However, questions are being raised on the effects of the strike since hospitals are required by law to maintain certain functions during walkouts.

The new regulation, which took full effect in January, mandates that hospitals keep an essential workforce during strikes and permits the use of temporary workers.

To minimize the impact, the government will also run a 24-hour emergency care system at 499 emergency medical centers across the nation and offer increased medical services after working hours when necessary.

By Cho Ji-hyun

(sharon@heraldm.com)

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