July 13, 2020 / 7:16 AM / 24 days ago

Japan hospitals cut staff bonuses as coronavirus drives them into the red

TOKYO (Reuters) - About a third of Japanese medical institutions are cutting summer bonuses to staff, a trade union said on Monday, as many hospitals and clinics face a cash crunch, having had to delay routine treatments to make room for coronavirus patients.

The Japan Federation of Medical Worker’s Unions said that out of 338 organisations surveyed 115 were planning to cut bonuses below last year’s levels.

Tough working conditions along with pay reductions could persuade more medical staff to retire early, said Kenichi Igarashi, an executive committee member of the union.

Although serious COVID-19 cases have abated, the epidemic brought Japan’s medical system to the brink of collapse in April and May, as patients filled intensive care units and hospitals dealt with internal outbreaks.

“Hospitals that take in COVID-19 patients are especially hard hit financially, which is truly a sad thing,” said Fumie Sakamoto, the infection control manager at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo. “The future doesn’t look bright, especially in Tokyo since the number of new cases are on the rise again.”

Two thirds of all hospitals in Japan are now operating in financial deficit, according to a Japan Hospital Association paper last month. The figure is 90% among institutions taking in coronavirus patients in Tokyo, where new daily infections have shot up to more than 200 in recent days.

But for Japanese medical workers the reduced bonuses, which they typically rely on as part of their regular compensation, effectively means a pay cut, and the financial strain is starting to affect worker relations.

A decision by Tokyo Women’s Medical University to cut summer bonuses prompted up to 400 nurses to retire, local media reported last week. Medical staff at Funabashi Futawa Hospital staged a strike on July 10 over bonus cuts, according to photographs posted on social media.

Neither organisation immediately responded to request for comment by Reuters.

Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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