Icelandic midwives recently announced that they wouldn’t be taking any more extra shifts at The National University Hospital of Iceland in the future, prompting an immediate ban on their decision issued by state, Vísir reports.
Icelandic midwives have been fighting for fair wages and improved working conditions for the past few months. Independent midwives, who had been working for two months without contract and had consequently quit their job en masse two weeks ago, finally signed an agreement with the Ministry for Health and the National Health Insurance.
Last week, however, the majority of midwives working for The National University Hospital of Iceland announced that they would refuse to take any extra shifts from May 1st until a new collective labour agreement is struck between the state and The Icelandic Midwives’ Association. Shortly after that, the midwives from Akureyri Hospital followed suit.
This means that if other workers, call in sick or if the workload increases in the next few weeks, the midwives will refuse to work for longer than they have to. The hope is that their education and the responsibility that comes with the job will be met with higher wages. As the Grapevine reported a month ago, in fact, after four years of nursing school and two more years to specialise in midwifery, students who take this career path are actually paid less than regular nurses.
According to the midwives’ statement, about 3,000 births take place in the National Hospital every year, but the midwives’ workload has been steadily increasing following the state’s decision to close numerous maternity clinics across the country.
With about 20 beds available for women who are either in pre- or post-partum, the number of women who need assistance from the hospital is much higher than the number of admissions. Such conditions have forced workers to take shifts that are longer than 24 hours, and work well beyond their capabilities.
“We realise that this decision might endanger the safety of patients seeking assistance from the hospital, but this is the state’s responsibility and not ours,” the statement reads. “Our conscience is always appealed to in order to protect patients, but this time we appeal to the conscience of the government instead.”
The Icelandic Midwives’ Association, however, immediately received a letter from the state affirming that such measures are actually prohibited by Law. Ironically, this happened on Labour Day, a symbolic day for all workers who fight for their rights.
“The Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs reminds the midwives that they are state employees and have therefore no choice on whether or not they take extra shifts,” a new statement issued by the midwives reads. “They cite a law on the rights and obligations of public workers which states that government employees are obliged to obey legal orders regarding their job. Midwives are therefore forced to obey state authority, revoke their previous statement and annul it. Midwives are therefore owned by the state!”
Following the Ministry’s letter and a lack of support from the The Icelandic Midwives’ Association, which does not support illegal actions, midwives were therefore forced to abandon their plans for now.
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