THE government spokesman will have great difficulty carrying on denying speculation that President Anastasiades has embarked on his re-election campaign after Friday’s shamefully irresponsible decision to increase substantially the entry-level wages of nurses at state hospitals. It was an indefensible decision that could only have been taken by a man who has placed his bid for re-election above everything, including his alleged commitment to introduce universal healthcare cover.
There is no other explanation for this decision which will increase the entry level wage of a nurse at a state hospital by 47 per cent and the retirement wage by 60 per cent, and thus a significantly higher state pension. Less than a year ago, the government turned down this demand despite a 15-day strike by the nurses’ union Pasyno, (the finance minister flatly refused to discuss it) on the grounds that it would add another €38 million to the public payroll and spark similar demands across the public sector. These reasons are as valid today as they were a year ago.
The new higher entry level wage is paid for posts in the public sector that require a university degree, and because nurses now receive a university degree rather than the nursing school diploma they believed they should be paid like graduates. Of course they will be doing exactly the same work as before, except that now hospitals might have to hire helpers to carry out the more menial nursing tasks that nurses with university degrees might consider beneath them, thus further increasing Gesy costs; a union boss in fact mentioned the possibility having nurses’ helpers on Friday.
Anastasiades’ decision could only have been dictated by electoral considerations because it makes no sense otherwise. For more than a year the government had been telling us that the nurses’ demand could not be satisfied because of the extra cost it would incur. There are widespread concerns about the financial viability of Gesy – a recent report prepared by Deloitte and given to the president last week raised questions about its viability – but the government has sanctioned massive pay rises to nurses.
How long before the hospital doctors’ union demands big wage increases because its members cannot be on similar pay to the nurses? Private doctors, for whom the Deloitte study was prepared, are also complaining because the fees they will be paid by Gesy have been deemed too low. Once these groups are also satisfied by our vote-hungry president – what excuse would he have to turn down the demands of the doctors? – we may as well scrap the idea of Gesy because it will be doomed. What scheme lumbered with crippling operating costs from day one has any chance of survival?
If Anastasiades possessed the basic qualities of leadership he would not have been pandering to every interest group seeking to maximise its profit from the introduction of universal health cover. A leader would have made it clear that the introduction of Gesy was the most difficult and complex project undertaken by any government so far and in order to succeed would need the full support of everyone, including interest groups such as unions, professional associations and businesses. Small sacrifices would have to be made by these groups, but it would be for an indisputably worthy cause – a good standard of healthcare for everyone. These groups should have been urged to put aside their narrow interests for the public good.
He should have called on everyone to show public spirit, explaining that he was placing the interests of the whole above those of interest groups and would not tolerate anyone attempting cashing in on the introduction of Gesy. Nobody would have been arguing for exemptions and special treatment as has been the case. Now we have private doctors wanting higher fees to participate in Gesy, hospital doctors demanding more money, companies that already provide health insurance cover to their staff wanting to be exempted and business associations insisting on their members contributing less than what the government is proposing.
Why should any worker or business contribute every month to a scheme that would be paying its workers wages that were drastically higher than market rates? How can a government that is recklessly wasting resources for the sake of electoral gain be trusted to set up a viable health scheme? The way Anastasiades is acting, Gesy will be a black hole in which the taxpayer’s money would disappear without any obvious benefit to anyone other than its employees. It would be run along the same principles as our rotten education system, which places the interests of teachers above its students’ – primarily serving its workers rather than the patients.