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Health workers in Zurich take warning action

Around 4,000 of Zurich's healthcare workers have taken part in the first day of a three-day industrial action, protesting against staff shortages in the canton's hospitals and clinics, and also demanding more pay.

Nursing staff at more than 20 hospitals, clinics and homes staged a two-hour work-to-rule between eight and ten o'clock Tuesday morning, with around 300 people taking part in a demonstration outside Zurich's University Hospital. Protesters wore black T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "without us nothing runs".

The programme of action is being organised by the nursing staff association, Aktion Gsundi Gsunheitspolitik (AGGP). It says that more and more nurses are leaving the profession as they feel undervalued.

At present AGGP reports that 215 nursing posts in canton Zurich remain unfilled. In a letter sent to the cantonal government the AGGP has demanded that these posts be filled immediately.

Irene Ries, spokeswoman for AGGP, explained that staff shortages, along with poor salaries are making conditions for nurses in Zurich intolerable.

"We are fighting for better conditions at work," she said.

Talks between nurses and the local government broke down last December, when the pay offer made by the authorities was rejected for being too low. AGGP wants to see nurses earn as much as the police, who earn around SFr1,200 more per month.

"We see this as gender inequality, as nursing is mainly a female profession," said Irene Ries.

The protests are set to step-up, with a four hour work to rule organised for Wednesday, and an eight hour work to rule set for Thursday.

During the protests, staff involved are providing the same service as on a Sunday in the canton's hospitals and clinics, with essential services covered. However, Irene Ries told swissinfo that such services as washing patients will have to wait until after the protest is finished.

"I think we have the patients on our side," said Irene Ries, who has worked as a nurse at the University Hospital for the past eight years. "They know how hard we work."

AGGP has promised more industrial action if demands for more staff and more money are not met. This latest three day action will culminate in a rally Thursday evening in Burkliplatz in the centre of Zurich.

by Tom O'Brien

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