The Korean Health and Medical Union (KHMU)’s industry-wide strike on 13-14 July has raised nationwide support for the 7-point demand of health and care workers in Korea. 91.63% of union members voted to go on strike to demand better healthcare services, a stronger healthcare workforce, and fair pay for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This call of the union was captured in the 7 key demands of the General Strike:
Full-fledged Expansion of Integrated Nursing Care Services to Address High Caregiving Expenses
Institutionalization of a Nurse-to-Patient Ratio of 1:5 to Ensure Patients’ Safety and Preparation of Appropriate Staffing Level Standard
Increase in the Number of Doctors to Combat Unlicensed and Illegal Medical Care
Extension of Public Medical Services for Essential Medical Services
Recovery Support for Hospitals Dedicated to COVID-19 to Faciliate the Normalization of the Hospitals
Fair Compensation for COVID-19 Heroes, who Have Been at the Frontline (10.7% wage increase)
Implementation of the ‘September 2 Agreement between the KHMU and the Ministry of Health and Welfare
For the two days the strike lasted, over 60,000 members of KHMU stopped working across the country. Services delivery was shutdown in the 122 branches of the union covering 140 workplaces. The overwhelming support of health and medical workers for the strike was further demonstrated as over 20,000 members braved the rains and stood united without wavering in rallies and picket lines. Despite the inconvenience that the industrial action brought for a vast proportion of the Korean population, public sentiment was on the side of the workers. The people reproached the government, calling on it to heed the demands of the striking workers.
In light of this, KHMU suspended the General Strike. The KHMU President Na Soon-ja led the union in a crucial meeting with the Korean Vice Minister for Health where KHMU presented the 7-point demand and demanded immediate and effective action for implementation. The Vice Minister on his part assured KHMU of due consideration of their demands, reaffirming the ministry’s commitment to discussions aimed at reaching positive addressing the raised issues.
KHMU has consistently been at the forefront of the struggle for decent work for Korean health workers and in defense of the public health system. The recent strike took 7 months of planning and organizing. During this period, the union organised educational and mobilisational programmes, including general strike schools. It also conducted a series of surveys and case studies to develop present its case to the Korean public and popularized these with short videos, social media campaigns and rallies.