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ICU workers plan strikes over "coercive" Patient Safety Act

After two weeks of delays at the behest of the national mediator, strikes are planned in Kanta-Häme, Southwest Finland and North Ostrobothnia.

Nurses' unions announced the postponement of industrial action starting on Monday. Archive photo from the ward of Kanta-Häme Central Hospital. Image: Jaani Lampinen / Yle

Nurses' unions in at least three regions across Finland have threatened to strike in response to the Patient Safety Act, which they had rejected earlier this week.

The strike plans are currently being made by nurses from the regions of Kanta-Häme, Southwest Finland and North Ostrobothnia.

If implemented the Patient Safety Act — which aims to secure essential care of patients during health care worker strikes — would mean that nurses could be forced to work during strikes to ensure patient safety.

According to the nurses' unions, the Act would effectively undermine legal industrial actions.

In response, strikes by intensive care unit (ICU) workers are planned for Friday in North Ostrobothnia. Meanwhile 24-hour ICU strikes in Kanta-Häme and Southwest Finland are set to start on Monday 19 September, according to a statement on nursing union Tehy's website and a tweet (siirryt toiseen palveluun) from the union's chair, Millariikka Rytkönen.

The chair of the union Super, Silja Paavola,told Yle that the decision to strike was shared by the nurses' unions, who all want to send a message to the government that the unions want to reach an agreement.

"Our goal is an agreement, not a strike. Now there is a whole week to make an agreement, but not by making a coercive law," Paavola emphasised to Yle, referring to the Patient Safety Act.

In addition to the strikes, there have been record numbers of nurses quitting the profession.

On Monday, Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services, Aki Lindén (SDP), said that the government reached an agreement on the Patient Safety Act. However, the Left Alliance announced that it did not accept the law in its current form.

The strikes were already postponed by two weeks at the request of the National Mediator, Anu Sajavaara, but nurses' unions want to speed up collective bargaining with strikes.

A four-day strike in North Ostrobothnia has also been threatened from 27 September.

Hospital districts demand fine

The hospital district of Southwest Finland demanded on Tuesday that the district court of Helsinki prevent next week's strike by the unions Tehy and Super, which is aimed at the ICU of the Turku University Central Hospital.

The district additionally requested a fine of one million euros be levied against the nurses' unions Tehy and Super if they follow through with the industrial action.

The Southwest Finland hospital district clearly stated in the district court's application for protective measures that the strike must be prohibited or people will die due to the reduced capacity of the ICU.

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