Massive strikes and protests continue in Spain’s Catalonia region Thursday as doctors and health professionals along with education teachers and students from all levels protest against the regional government’s public spending cuts in effect since 2011.
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An estimated two-thirds of public doctors and healthcare workers in Spain’s northern area of Catalonia have been on strike since Monday demanding that the regional government under Quim Torra allow them to increase the amount of time they spend with patients to at least 12 minutes. They also want to limit the number of patients each doctor sees at state healthcare centers to 28 per day.
Protest organizers such as the State Association of Directors and Managers of Social Services says the government, knows as the Generalitat, has cut 26 percent of its social spending since 2011, that’s more than 5 billion euros, or nearly US$57 billion. They add that the region’s financial recession from the 2008 economic crisis has ended, and austerity, which resulted in the layoff of 1,000 doctors, should end.
State institution workers who joined the strike say they are owed back pay from 2013 and 2014 which the Generalitat says it can't allot because it’s not earmarked in the budget.
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Meanwhile, public school teachers at all levels say they should be paid for overtime, have smaller class sizes, and that the government should increase education spending overall. University students in Catalonia say they are paying 12 percent higher for state education than the national average and are asking for a 30 reduction in tuition rates.
The Barcelona police estimate that there are at least 8,000 demonstrating students with demonstrations also taking place in the Catalan cities of Lleida, Girona, and Tarragona.
Josep Maria Puig, the secretary general of Metges de Catalunya, one of Europe’s oldest medical unions says his syndicate has begun conversations with the Catalan Hospital-Union and the Consortium of Social Health (CAPSS) along with the region’s largest public healthcare provider, Catalan Public Health (ICS) to negotiate with the government. They are asking for an immediate 100 million euros for state medical facilities in the region.
Catalonia needs a government that governs. No more excuses. Do what's in favor of the social majority.
Vice President Pere Aragones says he is considering the appeals, but added, “for that, we need a budget (and) we can’t seek to stop a strike by promising things we can’t follow through with.”
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau has backed the protests and called on the Catalan government to take action. “Public services in Catalonia are at bare minimum levels after years of cutbacks and an abrogation of responsibility by the government of the Generalitat, which has completely abandoned our local leaders … Catalonia needs a government that governs. Now, no more excuses,” Colau tweeted earlier this week.
El Pais newspaper says Generalitat President Torra has “virtually disappeared” during the region’s biggest demonstrations since last year’s call for independence from Spain. On Thursday, he did tweet that he was meeting with cabinet members to “continue working to reach the necessary agreements for the good of our citizens.”
Some 160,000 public workers are expected to strike again on Dec. 16.