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Trade Unionists Join Polish Nurses' Protest

Some 2,200 trade unionists demonstrated outside the seat of the Polish government Friday in support of hundreds of nurses who have pitched camp in front of the building in a two-week pay protest.

The demonstrators, including railway workers and miners from Poland's southern Silesian coal belt, brandished banners reading, "We want a decent living, like lawmakers" and "We want to work, not emigrate".

Ringed by riot police, the demonstrators mingled with nurses who since a June 19 march have been camping out in all weathers opposite the cabinet office in a high-profile protest.

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

Polish nurses earn the local equivalent of 290-340 euros (390-450 dollars) a month, and their union has been pushing the government to grant a 50-percent wage hike.

"We hope that the next round of negotiations with the authorities, set for Tuesday, will yield a result," Antoni Duda, deputy head of the FZZ union federation, told AFP.

There has been no headway so far in negotiations after several failed rounds of talks.

Conservative Prime Minister Jarolsaw Kaczynski has argued that Poland cannot afford wide-ranging pay increases for health service staff.

Kaczynski's government is also facing a go-slow by hospital doctors, who since May 21 have been refusing to provide all but emergency medical services or carry out administrative duties.

Around 200 doctors have also launched a hunger strike to try to force the government to give in to their union's demands for a massive pay hike.

The average monthly pay packet for Polish hospital doctors is 395 euros a month, not counting overtime.

Union representatives say that even domestic cleaners get a better hourly rate.

Financial problems have dr iven thousands from Poland's medical profession to take better-paid health service jobs in other EU member states, notably Britain, Ireland and Nordic nations, unions say.


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