A group of Lithuanian doctors won an important dispute with their hospital over compensation for work with suspected Covid-19 patients. The decision may serve as a precedent for the rest of the country's medical workers.
Last April, Panevėžys Republic Hospital in northern Lithuania paid out bonuses, amounting to between 60 and 100 percent of their regular wage, to medical workers who treated confirmed Covid-19 patients, as per instructions from the Health Ministry.
However, medics of the Emergency and Intensive Care Department argued that they also deserved bonuses, since every patient had to be handled with additional precautions before coronavirus tests results were in.
“All patients are first brought to the hospital reception and if they need to be hospitalised, they're categorised as Covid X, that is, possibly coronavirus-positive. Before the test results are in, these patients are taken to the Covid-19 ward or, if the patient needs intensive care, to the ICU,” a medic from the hospital's Emergency and Intensive Care Department, who asked to remain anonymous, told LRT.lt.
According to him, the department normally admits several patients a day, all of whom are tested for Covid-19. Getting the test results can take between 12 hours and two days, during which the patients must be handled with all the necessary precautions.
This means that medics at the Emergency and Intensive Care Department are subject to all the additional stress and hazardous working conditions, even if some of the patients turn out not to be infected.
However, the Panevėžys Republic Hospital administration paid out bonuses only to medical workers who worked with confirmed Covid-19 patients, refusing to extend additional compensation to 135 medics who worked with suspected cases.
As a result, the medics turned to the Labour Dispute Commission.
The hospital argued that it was not obliged to pay out bonuses to employees outside the Covid-19 ward, according to their interpretation of the Health Ministry's instructions.
“Under this interpretation [of the Health Ministry's orders], every employee of any healthcare institution without exception would need to be paid bonuses, [...] which is clearly not the intention of the policymakers,” the hospital said in its written response to the Labour Dispute Commission.
However, the latter decided in early November in favour of the medics, obliging the hospital to pay out compensations to the 135 workers.
The hospital can still take the decision to court. It has not commented on whether it intends to do so.
Andrejus Rudanovas, a lawyer specialising in medical and pharmaceutical law, said the commission's ruling can have a wider relevance.
“If Panevėžys Hospital decides not to dispute the Labour Dispute Commission's ruling and it comes into force, this would provide basis for other medical workers across the country to compare their own circumstances to those at Panevėžys Hospital and go to their employers [for additional compensation],” Rudanovas told LRT.lt.