17,000 Thai nurses threaten to go on strike

BANGKOK - Some 17,000 nurses across the country will strike work in January if their demand that they be employed as civil-service workers are not met, a nurses' network announced yesterday.

The 17,000 nurses, who have long been employed as contract workers, are demanding that they be employed permanently by the Public Health Ministry by January. Their campaign is supported by fellow nurses. A petition bearing 32,874 signatures calls for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to take action.

Speaking yesterday at a Bangkok seminar, the Nurses' Association of Thailand also repeated other demands: designation of long-term nurses' positions; reserve retirees' job vacancies for only newly graduated nurses; official recognition of nurses on the same level as doctors and dentists; and permission to work overseas when the Asean Economic Community takes effect in 2015.

Association head Jintana Uniphan cited a recent Education Ministry enlistment of 12,000 teachers as an example that could be applied to the case of the 17,000 nurses.

The nurses' network would notify the hospitals where the 17,000 nurses work before the strike takes place.

Network head Wannipha Srihomchai said the nurses would not accept a condition that they remain as Public Health Ministry contract workers while procedures were underway - only immediate permanent employment as civil servants was acceptable.

A proposal that the 17,000 nurses be hired as contract workers for a minimum five-year period instead of one year was also not acceptable, Wannipha said. Such an arrangement might work for newly graduated nurses but not for the long-time workers, who have been on contract for eight years.

Jakkaree Khakamjad, head of the alumni at Boromarajonani College of Nursing, said morale among nurses is at an all-time low. Many are working 16-hour shifts. The ideal one-to-six nurse-per-bed ratio has been at one-to-10 for many years while the one-to-one ratio for intensive care is more like one-to-four in many hospitals.