Too early for PM to meet protesting medics health minister says

Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish prime minister, will not meet protesting healthcare workers because "it is not yet the moment” for him to get involved, the health minister has said.

On Saturday, healthcare workers marched through the streets of Warsaw demanding higher wages and better working conditions as the country braces itself for a fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some of them have set up a 'White City 2.0,' a group of tents near the Prime Minister's Office in central Warsaw, where the protesters will stay 24 hours a day.

The name of the camp is a reference to a 'White City' set up by healthcare workers in the same place in 2007. At that time, their demands were similar and the same party, the conservative Law in Justice, was in power.

Adam Niedzielski, the health minister, said the prime minister will not meet the protesters on Tuesday and Thursday, when meetings between the healthcare workers and the government are due to take place.

"As for now, I'm conducting the dialogue and have all the authority as a constitutional minister to carry on the dialogue with social groups working in the healthcare sector," Niedzielski said.

The minister has invited the protestors to talks on Tuesday based on calculations of just how much money their demands could involve, and also suggested another meeting on Thursday but this time with all healthcare unions, including those that have not joined the protest.

But the Protest Committee, the organiser of the demonstration, wrote in an official letter to Niedzielski on Monday that they will not attend the Tuesday meeting, if the prime minister fails to show up.

Niedzielski said he could not understand this stance.

"Solving the problem should be the essence and the goal instead of looking for a reason not to conduct the dialogue," he said.

He also attacked the protestors’ demands for money, which could amount to an estimated PLN 100 billion (EUR 22 billion) in additional healthcare expenses every year.

"This PLN 100 billion equals half of all VAT receipts," he said.

Earlier in the day, a government source told PAP that "the demands presented by the medics are unrealistic" and that they are "an attempt to exert political pressure."

"Until the demands become more realistic, the prime minister will not meet the protesting medics," the source added.

In another development on Monday, the Protest Committee sent a letter to President Andrzej Duda asking him to take decisive action to rescue the Polish healthcare system.

"A personal meeting between the President and representatives of the Committee is necessary owing to the scale of the current problems in the healthcare system," the medics wrote.

Healthcare workers have eight demands, including a raise in the minimum wage, giving medical staff the status of a public officer (such as a police officer), and the right to a health-improvement vacation after 15 years of work.

But the Health Ministry has said that meeting all the demands would cost the state for the rest of the year PLN 26.05 billion (EUR 5.74 billion), and PLN 104.7 billion (EUR 23.07 billion) next year.

According to the government source, this is too much given that this year's total healthcare budget is about PLN 120 billion (EUR 26.44 billion).

The government plans to gradually increase the country's healthcare spending to 7 percent of GDP from the current level of some 4.5 percent, but the process may take years and it has not yet started as it depends on the introduction of a large-scale economic programme, the Polish New Deal, which has not been passed by parliament yet.