64,000 health workers in Korea stage walk out

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UNI Global Union affiliate, the Korean Health and Medical Workers Union (KHMU), began strike action in Seoul on Thursday, 13 July, with KHMU affiliates in other parts of Korea to follow suit on 14 July. The action involves over 64,000 KHMU members from 127 Branches all over Korea.

The strike started on 13 July with 45,000 determined KHMU members clad in transparent raincoats, braving the pelting rain, to listen to President Na Sun-Ja speak. “We saved people’s lives during the Covid-19 pandemic. But when Covid-19 ended, we were torn apart,” she exclaimed.

The KHMU’s strike is taking place alongside a general strike initiative led by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), which first started in early July, but the government has labelled the KCTU and KHMU strikes as illegal, claiming that their demands are ‘political’.

President Na responded in her address saying, “If it is a political strike to demand that the people’s high health care costs be solved and that the public hospitals that saved people’s lives be saved, then shouldn’t this kind of political strike be held?”

The KHMU is taking this action after months of intensive concerted efforts to engage in dialogue and mediation with the employers and government failed to make measurable progress in implementing critical concessions won by the KHMU over the past two years, as reflected in the key demands of the general strike:

  1. Full-fledged expansion of integrated nursing care services to address high caregiving expenses.
  2. Institutionalization of appropriate staffing level standards of a nurse-to-patient ratio of 1:5 to ensure patients’ safety.
  3. Increase the number of doctors to combat unlicenced and illegal medical care.
  4. Extension of public medical services for essential medical services.
  5. Recovery support for hospitals designated to treat Covid-19 to facilitate the normalization of these hospitals’ services in a post-Covid situation.
  6. A 10.7 per cent wage increase as fair compensation for the frontline healthcare heroes during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  7. Implementation of the September 2nd Agreement between the KHMU and the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

The KHMU first won a groundbreaking agreement in 2021 with the government to address the deteriorating working conditions faced by healthcare workers amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The agreement, known as the September 2nd Agreement, was aimed at addressing the significant systemic deficiencies of the Korean healthcare system, which currently functions only at the great cost of ordinary healthcare workers.

It was followed by another landmark sectoral agreement with KHMU’s counterpart representing nearly 80 medical institutions nationwide in August 2022. 

However, with the political climate taking a turn after a Conservative President was elected in 2022, the KHMU faced obstacles to ensuring the provisions of the agreements achieved could be realized with the cooperation of employers and the government.

The KHMU welcomes all fellow unions and supporters interested in sharing and expressing support for their claims to view the live stream (13-14 July) on their YouTube channel, “The KHMU TV”.  


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