Thousands of public health workers marched Tuesday in the capital of Lima as they started an indefinite labor strike. Their main demands are an increase in public health funding and an increase in workers’ benefits.
Demonstrators started gathering early at Loayza public hospital and ended with a protest outside the Ministry of Economics and Finance. Workers claim the neoliberal economic system imposed by different governments for over two decades is the cause of the current crisis.
The National Health Workers Federation organized the strike, representing close to 100,000 public employees. They represent nurses, obstetricians, administrative personnel, technicians, assistants, maintenance, drivers, auxiliary workers and doctors in the provinces of the country.
According to Cesar Terreros, labor union leader at Loayza, the facilities’ emergency equipment such as electroshocks, densitometers, mechanical ventilators, and vacuums for secretions do not work. He added, “we lack supplies, the infrastructure is completely deteriorated, and patients have to go to private clinics when there is no money to repair the machines.”
Dozens of hospitals from all regions of the country are in a similar situation and unionized hospital workers argue the crisis is the main cause for the strike and protests. However, their demands for raising hospital funding also include increasing wages and benefits for employees.
Demonstrators explained that 17,930 hospital employees work under temporary subcontractors conditions with few benefits if any at all.
“We don’t exist for the government, we have been discriminated against for years,” said labor union leader Miguel Puma. Other workers have not been paid for three to four months as hospital employee Virginia Pilco explains, “We have unpaid personnel and the government wants to fire them.”
Police attempted to prevent the workers from marching but were unsuccessful. After a heated discussion between labor leaders and police officers, the march started and headed to the Ministry of Economics, which is the body in charge of preparing the national public budget and which protesters blame for protecting and advancing the neoliberal system in the country.
However, no government official came out of the Ministry of Economics to meet the workers. Gladys Olortegui, secretary general of the National Health Workers Federation said, “We haven’t had an answer so far and our measures will continue until the last consequences.” Olortegui also stated that the response of the government has been “really negative. If they were interested I think they would be calling us to sit down and see what is most viable.”
Protesters also complained that in 2016, the state transferred US$75 million to private clinics to satisfy the necessities of the public sector. They called the measure a disguised privatization of the public health system.