The majority of modern Nightingales work in unfavorable conditions with low pay, long hours, gender inequality and exploitative contracts, a group of nurses’ rights advocates said yesterday.
On the eve of Nurses’ Day, the Taiwan Labor Front (TLF) and the Taiwan Nurses’ Right Promotion Association (TNRPA) called on the future government and the public to restore basic working rights for society’s “white-dressed angels,” including overtime pay, set working hours and protection from workplace sexual harassment.
“As 98 percent of nurses are women, the exploitation of nurses is in fact a demonstration of gender imbalance in the workplace,” TLF secretary-general Son Yu-lian (孫友聯) told a press conference yesterday. “Sixty-six percent of nurses are employed as contract workers, which, unless nurses are considered temporary and seasonal workers, clearly violates Article 9 of the Labor Standards Law [勞動基準法].”
In addition, more than 60 percent of nurses work overtime every working day, while 38 percent never receive overtime pay, he said.
As nurses are frontline workers, the additional stress they face in their work environment could pose a threat to the patients and compromises the quality of the nation’s healthcare system, Son said.
“By law, a nurse should be responsible for no more than 11 patients at a time,” he said. “However, this ratio would be half that of other advanced countries. If you really think about it, this ratio stretches nurses dangerously thin and gives each patient a very short amount of time with healthcare personnel.”
The ratio in the US is four-to-one, he said.
“Nurses are not appreciated enough and are overworked,” said Andrew Su (蘇柏熙), a nurse practitioner who works in the emergency room at China Medical University Hospital in Taichung City.
With entry-level salaries at about NT$30,000 annually, a typical nurse works six-day weeks at 10 to 12 hours a day, Su said.
The work conditions and pay makes it very difficult for hospitals to retain nurses. At many hospitals and clinics, the nurse workforce is understaffed and it is not uncommon for a nurse to work more than 15 days in a row, he said.
To improve the quality of the healthcare system and nurses’ rights, inspections of work conditions should be added to the hospital evaluation system, TNRPA chairwoman Jane Lu (盧孳艷) said.