Around 200 ambulance workers and supporters held a demonstration in front of the National Ambulance Headquarters in Budapest demanding higher wages and better working conditions on Wednesday.
At the demonstration dubbed “Enough!” and organised by unions for ambulance workers, Zsolt Kusper, head of the Hungarian Ambulance Workers’ Federation (MOMSZ), said that they will carry on demonstrating until they achieve a net wage hike to the level of current gross wages, and until a career model [similar to teachers’] has been introduced for ambulance workers.
Kusper called government claims that ambulance workers’ wages averaged at monthly 239,000 forints (EUR 776.5) “false”, and said that net wages in the sector are around 119,000 forints.
Currently around 7,800 people work in the sector, Kusper noted. The employees “need to get the social appreciation they deserve”, he said. An increasing number of workers are leaving the sector for the primary market or to work abroad, he warned.
Andrea Varga of the Autonomous Regional Union said that talks between the government and unions amounted only to “fake talks”, as opposed to serious cooperation, while Tamás Fiderman of MOMSZ protested that the operating authority only accepted a single union as a negotiating partner.
Politicians from the opposition Dialogue, Jobbik and LMP parties were present at the demonstration.
At a press briefing held simultaneously with the demonstration, the state secretary for health care, Zoltán Ónodi-Szűcs, said that the government was committed to improving health care in Hungary, but “some are bent on ruining what the sector and unions have worked for over the past year and a half”.
He said sectoral wages had already risen by 26.5 percent in 2016, adding that they would rise again by 12 percent in November this year and by 8 percent in 2018. In addition, ambulance workers will receive an extra 10 percent wage hike next January, he said.
The National Ambulance Service’s 2010 budget, 22.5 billion forints, was raised to 40 billion by 2017, Ónodi-Szűcs noted. A total of 30 new ambulance stations have been built recently and a further 97 have been renovated, he said.
The health-care sector itself received 500 billion forints in development funding recently and is to receive 200 billion more regular funding in both 2017 and 2018 than in previous years, he said.
“We cannot sit back and relax, there is a lot more to do. But we cannot be expected to set the mistakes of past decisions right in a single step”, Ónodi-Szűcs said.
Opposition parties expressed support for the demonstrators later on Wednesday.
Imre László of leftist Democratic Coalition (DK) called for a full revamp of the ambulance service’s vehicle fleet and an immediate wage rise. With wages between 90,000 and 110,000 forints, ambulance workers often have to hold down two or even three jobs to be able to make a living, he said.
Co-leader of green LMP, Ákos Hadházy, said that the party will submit an amendment proposal to the 2018 budget bill allocating 21 billion forints to wage hikes. This would constitute a 60 percent rise as opposed to the 10 percent ruling Fidesz offers, he said.
The Dialogue Party proposes to amend the 2018 budget and allocate 10 billion forints to the wage hikes. The funds should come from the allocations for the Paks 2 nuclear plant upgrade investment, Tímea Szabó, co-leader of the party said.