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Nurses protest the act on countering COVID-19 and its provisions regulating their working conditions during the pandemic. – We see our freedom and dignity taken away from us. The government is violating our rights. It puts us in danger – says Dorota Gardias.

The Trade Unions Forum issued a formal complaint to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

During the pandemic, nurses do as they are told

The ILO is a United Nations agency founded over a hundred years ago. It has a membership of 187 countries. The Polish National Nurses and Midwives Union reached out to us asking for assistance in filing this complaint because the government’s COVID-19 legislation violates their fundamental rights- says Grzegorz Sikora, spokesman for the Trade Unions Forum.

-The government’s decisions are in violation with safe and hygienic working practices, the right to leisure and free choice of employment. Nurses are essentially forced to work, which is unacceptable within the current legal system.

The issue of concern is the legislation regulating the working conditions of nurses passed on April 17. It allows the employer to change the schedule at will and order a nurse to work overtime. The legislation expects nurses to be on standby at all times- they must report at work or another designated place at the employer’s wish. – These new regulations allow to keep us locked up and order to rest at a place designated by the employer. It means that we can be cut off from our family and loved ones at any given moment and we will not be allowed to return home. The legislation also prohibits nurses from taking a leave of absence- Alicja Miszkiewicz, president of the National Nurses and Midwives Union at the Polish Mother’s Memorial Hospital Research Institute, warned in an interview with “Wyborcza”. – I have never been this humiliated. Nurses say they will either end their careers or go on a sick leave. Who will take care of you then?

"A state of emergency following a natural disaster which could allow the government to restrict the freedom of employment has not been introduced. Thus, such restrictions initiated under the guise of countering the COVID-19 pandemic should be considered unlawful as, for the duration of pandemic, they limit the right to free choice of employment, violate safe and hygienic working practices, and are in breach of the right to leisure, allowing the employer to “lock up” the workers and order them to rest at a designated place. – Union members wrote in their complaint.

A harm to Poland’s international reputation

Dorota Gardias informs that in their anticipation of possible difficulties occurring amid the coronavirus pandemic, nurses suggested several solutions. – We proposed creating a pandemic action plan for medical and healthcare workers; for example, opening accommodation centres next to hospitals for infectious diseases. It would allow medical workers who are not willing to go home out of safety concerns to stay there instead. Such decisions would be voluntary and reasonable. Their propositions remained unanswered, however. Instead, new and unfavourable regulations were introduced without even consulting the nurses.

-We hope that the International Labour Union will recommend to repeal these regulations- says Grzegorz Sikora, spokesman of the Trade Unions Forum

-If the organization answers favourably to the arguments we have made in our complaint, it will do a massive harm to Poland’s international reputation- it will put us on the margins in terms of employment standards and public dialogue.

Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about the coronovirus pandemic for you.

They are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities. They work on the ground, reporting from hospitals and airports.

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