July 8, 2020 / 1:52 PM / a month ago

Sarajevo medical workers strike over pay amid second COVID-19 spike

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Around 3,000 frontline medical workers in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo went on strike on Wednesday demanding a wage supplement as the country struggles to contain a second spike in coronavirus infections.

A resurgence of COVID-19 cases has coincided with a relaxation of some of the strictest controls imposed during the peak months by Balkan countries, which have suffered far lower infection rates than many in Western Europe.

The medical workers, including nurses and laboratory and radiology technicians, withdrew from triage points - where they process patients for appointments with doctors - and said they would now receive only patients in life-threatening condition.

The strikers’ central demand is a pay supplement covering categories such as overtime. The walkout, which the medical workers’ union said was open-ended, does not involve doctors, who receive the supplement at the heart of the dispute.

Medical workers also walked out in September last year after failing to clinch a deal on collective bargaining and wage increases with the Sarajevo cantonal authorities, but suspended the strike in March when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Bosnia.

“A strike remains the only means for (our) struggle,” said Edo Selimic, head of the medical workers’ union.

The Sarajevo canton health ministry said it would continue to negotiate to resolve the dispute but that accepting the union’s demands would cost the cash-strapped government 13 million Bosnian marka ($7.54 million) it could not afford - 5 million marka over the union’s assessment.

Bosnia recorded 248 new coronavirus infections and two deaths on Wednesday, bringing the total to 5,869, with 68 new cases of the COVID-19 respiratory disease in Sarajevo alone.

Reporting by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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