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Talks Break Down in Polish Nurses' Pay Protest

Poland's health sector crisis deepened Friday as pay talks broke down between the conservative government and the country's nurses, hundreds of whom are camping outside the premier's offices in protest.

The talks, which had been planned for the early hours of Friday, failed to get off the ground after each side accused the other of bad faith, officials said.

Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski refused to start the negotiations unless four nurses ended their occupation of a room in the government's office, which they began late Tuesday after receiving permission to hand over a petition.

"If these ladies leave the building, we'll talk. If they stay, we won't," Kaczynski told reporters.

Several hundred nurses, meanwhile, remained camped out in the rain on a grass verge opposite the government building, saying they would not leave until Kaczynski came up with a solid offer of pay hikes.

The Polish government is already facing down hospital doctors who since May 21 have been refusing to provide all but emergency medical services or carry out administrative duties.

The OZZL physicians' union on Friday threatened to launch a hunger strike next week unless the government gives in to its demands for a massive pay hike.

Poland's state-employed medical workers are notoriously overworked and underpaid, like their counterparts across former the communist bloc.

Nurses earn the local equivalent of 290-340 euros (390-450 dollars) a month, while the average pay packet for hospital doctors is worth 395 euros (530 dollars).

Kaczynski on Friday said that Poland lacks the budget to meet the medical workers' demands.

He also reaffirmed his earlier call for a referendum to help resolve the crisis in the health sector, saying it would hinge on raising taxes for better-off Poles to finance pay hikes for medical workers.

However, Kaczynski did not specify when a referendum could ta
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