Holding placards and chanting slogans, about 200 nurses from across the country protested outside the Department of Health (DOH) in Taipei on International Nurses’ Day yesterday, calling for changes in work conditions, including what they call a “twisted” shift system.
“Only when nurses have rested well can patients’ safety be guaranteed. Give me normal work hours. Give me a normal work schedule,” nurses chanted as they demonstrated in uniform outside the DOH.
After chanting the slogans, protesters threw work schedules at the DOH building.
People’s Front for Democracy director Chou Chia-chun (周佳君) said hospitals put their nurses on one of three eight-hour shifts a day — a day shift from 8am to 4pm, an evening shift from 4pm to 12am and a night shift from 12am to 8am — but sometimes changes between different shifts leave the nurses with less than eight hours of rest time.
“I began my shift at midnight today, and got off work at 8am, but tomorrow, I’m on the day shift that starts at 8am — I only have one day in between to adjust,” said Chen Yi-chun (陳宜君), one of the nurses in the demonstration.
Taiwan Radical Nurses Union member Liang Hsiu-mei (梁秀眉) said that among the 586 shift schedules the union has collected from nurses across the country — including from university hospitals, municipal hospitals, medical centers and care centers, one-third of the schedules showed at least two different shifts every week.
“This means that the nurses have to reverse their circadian rhythms every two or three days, and suffer from sleep pattern disruption or insufficient sleep,” she said, adding that one of the worst schedules is when the night shift is followed by the day shift, because with forced overtime, the nurses get less than eight hours of rest before their next shift.
The union protested at the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) late last month, demanding reasonable labor conditions protected by the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法), but the council shifted the responsibility for dealing with the shift arrangements back to the DOH, union member Chen Yu-feng (陳玉鳳) said.
“The department stands with the nurses on their demand for reasonable working hours and sufficient rest,” DOH spokesperson Wang Che-chao (王哲超) said, adding that the department will also discuss the criteria of hospital evaluations to include “labor inspection.”
The department will also negotiate with the CLA as soon as possible and discuss the actual working conditions with nurses, Wang added.
His words sparked an uproar from the crowd, who said the evaluations were often done falsely and that the two agencies are still passing the buck.
“It’s not about money, we want our lives, we want to take days off,” union member Wang Yun-hsu (王云緒) said, adding that solving the problem of disordered shift arrangements would go some way to alleviating the national problem of nursing shortages.
A nurse surnamed Wu (吳) said that the NT$2 billion (US$68.11 million) promised by the government to improve nurses’ working conditions and hire more resident nurses is not helpful to the nurses because the hospitals force them to sign contracts binding them to continue working for at least one or two years, with a substantial penalty for breach of contract.
“Wouldn’t it be better for the patients if the labor conditions were reasonable, so that nurses can continue working for many years and gain more experience, instead of burning out new nurses in a couple years and forcing them to leave because of poor health conditions caused by the heavy workload?” Wang Yun-hsu asked.