Bild: dpa/Christoph Soeder
Ver.di achieved safe staffing level (needs- based staffing level) for health workers through a successful strike at Charité Hospital in Berlin
(4 February 2022) On the 7th of October 2021, the German public services union ver.di claimed an important success in collective bargaining negotiations with Berlin’s Charité University Hospital. After a four-week strike, both parties came to an agreement to include minimum staffing levels in wage contracts. In the future, it will be set how many staff must be present in every station with beds, including surgery, anesthesia, radiology, emergency wards and delivery rooms. If employees are working in under-staffed stations more than five times, or in other high-pressure circumstances, they get compensation such as free days, recreation grants, childcare benefits, partial retirement funds and sabbaticals. This will be implemented through a point-based system called CHEPS. Moreover, psycho-social assistance in intensive care units will be strengthened and a concept to prevent violence will be developed. The Charité Hospital also wants to employ 700 additional workers in the coming three years. Sylvia Bühler, part of the federal committee for health at ver.di, stated that the agreement is a huge success regarding collective bargaining for needs-based staffing nationally, as it serves as a positive example. She also explained that the inclusion of minimum staffing levels in wage contracts will lead to more staff employment generally. She emphasized that the success was only possible due to the endurance and determination of the striking staff.
Additionally, there are going to be fundamental changes for the training of apprentices at Charité, through the creation of three training stations, a multi-faceted intensive care training center, a set roster for about two months in advance and an extension of supervision during the apprenticeship or training. These changes are not only aimed at improving the situation of existing healthcare apprentices, but are also targeted to make professional healthcare work more attractive. The Charité Hospital already documented a growth in employment in the recent years and is planning on fostering this through the new agreement.
The strike was part of the initiative ‘Berliner Krankenhausversorgung’ (Berlin Hospital Provision), which was launched in April 2021 by employees at Charité and Vivantes, the two major public hospitals in Berlin. The hospitals represent about 40% of the total supply for health services in Berlin. The aim of the initiative was to secure binding, needs-based staffing levels in the wage contracts of both hospitals and the subsidiary companies of Vivantes. Especially the employees in the subsidiary companies were highly underpaid. Many of the striking employees are organized in ver.di and most politicians were in favor of the initiative and supportive of its demands. Employees at Charité and Vivantes then started an open-ended strike on September 9, 2021, which resulted in the agreement at Charité on October 7. The strike at Vivantes was continued for a little while after, but collective bargaining negotiations were restarted on October 14. After that, a new wage contract was also implemented at Vivantes. Dana Lützkendorf, intensive care nurse and chairperson for health, social services and welfare at ver.di, was part of organising and coordinating the strike. She emphasised that the systematic organisation of the employees in a structure of delegate teams, which allowed them to engage closely with the negotiation process, made the strike become so successful.
The strikes show that determination and endurance are essential to enforce the demand for needs-based staffing levels. However, they also show the incapacities and failure of German ex-health minister Jens Spahn, who was unable to make sure that hospitals are adequately staffed and funded. The results of years of austerity measures for the health sector and ongoing privatisations show how dangerous this turns out to be in a health emergency, both for the healthcare workers and the patients. Ver.di therefore demands a binding, needs-based staffing level for all hospitals on a federal level from the new government. In 16 clinics in Germany wage contracts with binding staffing levels already exist, showing that the demand for safe staffing levels and better protection at the workplace is possible.
Please find the links for ver.di and Berliner Krankenhausbewegung websites below