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Patient Safety Act Takes Effect on Saturday

Parliament approved the Patient Safety Act by a wide margin on Friday afternoon. MPs decided that municipal employers may force about 20 percent of public sector nurses to report for duty in spite of ongoing industrial action. Municipal employers intend to order more than 2,600 nurses to work if the mass resignation of 12,800 nurses goes ahead as planned on Monday night. Some say they will defy the order. President Tarja Halonen signed the bill into law on Friday afternoon. It takes effect on Saturday. Parliament approved the bill by a vote of 113-68, with the entire opposition voting against it and 18 MPs absent. Those missing included Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, who was hospitalised overnight with lower back pain. On Friday a stone was removed from his urinary tract, and he was expected to remain in hospital at least through Saturday morning. Opposition Parties Attacked Bill The Social Democrats argued that the solution to the current situation lies in compromise and negotiation. Rather than forcing limits on workers in essential services, municipalities or local government associations should try to find common ground with local union representatives, the SDP says. The Left Alliance says the impasse can only be resolved with money, and points out that government holds the keys to that account. The party position is that the state should provide more funds for municipalities to pay their nurses better salaries. The True Finns noted that although the intention of the bill is to safeguard patient safety, this cannot be legislated. The right-wing party says that nurses cannot be forced to work against their will and that doing so is neither right nor rational. The rightist Christian Democrats see the bill as a panic measure, essentially "too little, too late". Party Chairman Päivi Räsänen says she will not support the bill and that a compulsory settlement would have been a better option. All parties acknowledge that enactment of this bill in itself will not resolve the industrial dispute. And many Tehy union members who are quitting have vowed to ignore demands to come in to work. Government Defends Legislation Among the four government parties, the National Coalition asserts that the bill will have no impact on other possible industrial disputes. The party stressed that it will not be enforced if agreement is reached in the current impasse. All Green League MPs voted in favour of the controversial bill. The left-of-centre Greens denied that their decision represents a vote for the employers. The party leadership's support for the bill has caused dissent in the Green ranks, though. The smallest government partner, the Swedish Peoples' Party, hopes that a resolution can still be reached, and render the law unnecessary. However they support the legislation on the grounds that human life and health must be safeguarded in extreme situations. YLE

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