LA PAZ – Bolivian President Evo Morales relented on his decision to lengthen the workday for doctors and workers in state hospitals from six to eight hours after being besieged by protests from the sector over the last six weeks.
In a statement after which no questions from the press were accepted and at the end of a day of protests, the president said that “enforcement is suspended” of the decree increasing by two hours the workday of the sectors in conflict and called for a “national summit meeting” in July to analyze the measure anew.
“The summit will not only debate whether there are eight hours of work in a day...It should also totally change health care in Bolivia,” Morales said.
Doctors and health-care workers have been on strike since March 28, with pickets on hunger strikes, daily demonstrations and roadblocks around the country in protest against the decree hiking the number of hours in the medical workday.
Health-care sectors argue that no consensus was reached on the measure and that it will do nothing to solve the shortage of equipment, infrastructure and personnel in state hospitals.
Morales insisted Friday that the controversial regulation “was not a government initiative” but rather the result of a national meeting of his supporters – including representatives of Bolivia’s indigenous nations, given enhanced status under the 2009 constitution – held last January in the central city of Cochabamba.
He is now inviting physicians, university students, health-care workers unions, social organizations and experts to attend the summit to design a “new system of public, universal health care.”
But doctors and health-care workers reacted Saturday to Morales’ statement suspending the longer workday with distrust and demanded that he annul the decree completely or they would remain on strike.
A leader of the Confederation of Health-Care Workers, Jose Gonzalez, said that the suspension of the decree announced Friday evening by Morales “is no guarantee,” nor is it legally binding, which is why he demands that the president simply withdraw the regulation.
“This is no way to resolve the conflict. The decision of the confederation and of the COB labor federation is clear – we’re demanding that the president totally revoke the decree if we are to stop putting on the pressure,” he said.
Also suspicious of Morales’ intentions was the president of the Medical College of Bolivia, Alfonso Barrios, who recalled the case of the Indians who protested against putting a highway through the Tipnis natural park and who in 2011, after a 66-day march to La Paz, were able to get Morales to pass a law banning any road construction through that Amazon reserve – only to have him go back on his word later and restart the roadworks with Brazilian financing.
Joining in the strike of health-care personnel over the last few months were the COB labor federation and transport workers setting up roadblocks, among others putting pressure on the president.