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Court blocks all ICU nurses' strikes planned for next week

A bitter labour dispute in the social and healthcare sector took new turns as a court prevented strikes in three districts from going ahead next week. Meanwhile contract talks drag on as MPs weigh the controversial Patient Safety Act.

Oulu University Hospital (pictured) asked the court to block a nurses' strike threatening its intensive care unit. Hospital districts in North Ostrobothnia, Kanta-Häme and southwest Finland also applied for such action. Image: Paulus Markkula / Yle

Helsinki District Court has accepted requests from three hospital districts for a temporary measure forbidding the nurses' unions Tehy and Super from launching strikes at hospital intensive care units (ICUs) next week.

Wednesday's district court rulings did not include a determination as to whether ICU nurses have the right to go on strike or not. In practice, the court allowed additional time for the resolution of the dispute, indicating that otherwise there would not have been enough time to be resolve it before the strikes began.

The district court noted that the nurses aim to improve their wages through the walkout, which is a generally acceptable goal. A strike also usually results in financial losses, which are not a sufficient reason to limit the right to strike.

However, the court said that the right to life and the right to health according to the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights must also be taken into account.

Contract mediation resumes on Thursday

Meanwhile negotiations aimed at resolving the bitter contract dispute in the nursing sector broke off after a few hours on Wednesday.

State labour mediator Anu Sajavaara said that efforts to reach a compromise would resume on Thursday morning. She is leading the talks at the National Conciliator's office on Helsinki's Bulevardi.

Earlier, Sajavaara had said that she would decide based on Wednesday's meeting whether there were grounds to present a settlement proposal.

Mediation in the collective bargaining dispute is proceeding on a separate track while the government pushes ahead with the controversial Patient Safety Act. If ratified, the long-delayed law would allow employers to force intensive care nurses to work regardless of strike action.

Representatives of the main nurses' unions, Tehy and Super, consulted with members of the parliamentary Social Affairs and Health Committee on Wednesday. The committee has begun considering the bill presented by the government a day earlier.

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