A day after President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said that the government was “ashamed” of its unfulfilled promises that had led to nurses taking to the streets in protest on Labor Day in May 2011, the Taiwan Radical Nurses Union (TRNU) yesterday displayed a large number of shoes belonging to overworked nurses outside the Department of Health in defiance of what it called the government’s “appeasement efforts.”
Ahead of International Nurses’ Day tomorrow, the TRNU and other unions and associations took the government to task over its inaction on nurses’ working conditions and relatively low salaries and accused it of favoritism toward hospital administrators.
While the Department of Health has failed to address the underlying problem of staff shortages, the union said it is hyping the expected profits that could be generated by relaxing the rules for hospitals to operate commercially in the “free economic pilot zones” the government is setting up.
The nurses’ union criticized this proposal, saying that at the same time as large medical institutions pushed for increased profits from self-funded outpatients and VIP services, they are employing “four major weapons” against nursing staff to lower personnel costs.
“Unreasonable working schedules, arbitrary transfers between divisions, part-time employment and the responsibility-based working system — these ‘four weapons,’ are not only wearing nurses out, they are also putting patients’ lives at risk,” union founding member Chen Yu-feng (陳玉鳳) said.
Chen added that the union had asked the department last year to hold a public hearing on the issue of nurses’ unreasonable working schedules, but had not received any encouraging response from the department, which passed the matter on to the Council of Labor Affairs.
The union said that hospitals’ arbitrary inter-division transfers of nurses to save personnel costs is also a serious problem.
“Different care approaches are required by each unit,” union member Wang Yun-hsu (王云緒) said. “However, by arbitrarily transferring nurses without proper training, hospitals can save between NT$250,000 and NT$450,000 [US$8,425 and US$15,176] a month [per ward].”
Liu Nien-Yun (劉念雲), organizer of the Taiwan Association for Victims of Occupational Injuries — one of the civic groups supporting the nurses’ union’s protest — added that a “failure of disease prevention” that occurred in 2003 during the SARS outbreak can be partly attributed to inter-division transfers, and it therefore remains an open question of how badly such practices will affect the nation in the event of a widespread outbreak of H7N9 avian influenza.