Orbán chose the pandemic to suppress healthcare workers. Their deadline to succumb passed last midnight.
The final deadline to sign the new employment contracts for healthcare workers passed at midnight, March 1.
Last night, news about mass resignations kept coming out from hospitals, entire departments emptied, entire counties left without traumatology, etc. This morning, chaos ensued in many places – but things happening in hospitals are confidential, so the public only gets limited insight from pesky journalists. It looks like the military that has been ordered to hospitals at the beginning of the pandemic will have an ever larger role.
According to the ever-reliable government information, “only” 5% of healthcare workers refused to sign their new military contracts, thanks to “individual negotiations”. That is 5500 doctors and nurses, although many will no doubt succumb later. And according to the government, it may even make the service better!
It is difficult to tell how badly the system was hit because medical workers tend to work multiple jobs to make ends meet and keep hospitals open. News is not allowed to leak from inside hospitals, by law.
It is a miracle even this many people refused to sign the enslavement contract. For now. Doctors and nurses are not political revolutionaries to begin with. And almost every one of them faced some kind of consequences if they didn’t sign. Those “individual negotiations” sound quite threatening if you live here. (UPDATE – Stories of threats to medical workers to sign the contract keep emerging. The easiest threat being that they are never allowed to work again in their field or in the regional hospital if they don’t sign now.)
Medical residents were threatened with having to repay their entire tuition fees if the refused. Many of the nurses live month by month and simply can’t afford a month without salary. Going abroad sounds easy, but it requires professional language skills and uprooting entire families is easier said than done. Those who haven’t done so yet are the least likely to pull it off.
During the last few weeks there have been complaints that they were not allowed to even see the new contracts, let alone have them looked at by lawyers, until the last minute. That was last night.
After signing, many report uncertainty over their next salaries, even. They have experienced time and again that promised salary rises didn’t happen, because of some legal excuse.
The contract is filled with references to legal paragraphs, that makes it impossible to read for non-lawyer humans. Even worse: it keeps referencing the new law – which has a paragraph in it allowing the government to change it by decree later. This is what they called a law that is “pencilled in, but the eraser is in hand”.
Politically speaking, the intention of the contracts is pretty clear. And under Orbán, we are always thinking politically. Professional logic does not matter, human lives are not a red line never to cross. Not even during the pandemic.
After public employees, civil servants, teachers, nurses, police, librarians, academia, etc., doctors will now also lose their public service status. The emptying out of the state and replacing career civil servants with personally dependent political appointees with no legal protection from political influence has been a guiding principle of Orbánism.
It wasn’t long ago that Orbán duped the doctors’ chamber. After doctors elected a non-Orbánist leadership in 2019 (to everyone’s surprise), they started to be more assertive in politics. They were beginners, of course, and those are always played in politics, but the intention to work like a professional organization was obvious.
When Orbán couldn’t ignore them anymore, he invited them for The Handshake – the moment every humble professional uprising dies.
Doctors reps went to Orbán’s castle, where they were granted a private audience, where they were promised everything they wanted to hear. Understandably, and naively, they were happy. (And possibly relieved that Orbán didn’t threatened them.) They posed for The Handshake photos. That’s when every professional organization fails against Orbán. But they never learn.
The photos were immediately spread in Orbánist media with the news that doctors will now earn millions (relax, it is three thousand euros, with 360 forints to a euro). At the same time, the bill has been submitted that did not contain any of the promises, it was as Orbán wanted it in the first place:
- enlisting healthcare workers in a quasi-military contract,
- making them subject to orders to relocate for duty for two years, regardless of common sense or family, and
- forbidding them to resign, protest or strike.
- The lose their public service status, making them more dependent.
- It has also criminalized giving and accepting bribes to doctors – except for obstetricians, the most bribe-infected field of medicine.
- It banned multiple jobs, which is incomprehensible as there is a serious shortage of healthcare professionals and if they don’t cover more than one job, the system can not stand.
- If they still want a second gig, doctors will have to obtain the permission of their political intendant, making them exposed to political will.
- It also left nurses and other medical staff out of the salary raise – pitting them against each other.
Obviously, I must say. A divided profession can resist Orbán even less.
When they were aghast for the breach of promise and tried to communicate that this is not what was agreed, they didn’t stand a chance. (Come on, even seasoned politicians like EPP’s Manfred Weber was repeatedly duped by Orbán.)
Orbánist media is so loud it wakes up the dead and its rabid smears against “greedy doctors who get millions and it is still not enough” spread a million times faster than the moderate Facebook updates of the Chamber of Doctors that there must be a misunderstanding, please talk to us.
Eventually, Orbán made one little non-concession: medical workers can be commanded to relocate only for 40 days – unless there is a state of danger to public health. But that is easily created. The rest of the enslavement remained in place – especially the total political dependence from now on.
Orbán has a long and tortured history hating on healthcare. It may sound counter-intuitive, but attitudinally, it fits perfectly in the authoritarian gloating habit to blame patients for being sick and hospitals for running out of money. They can’t fight back. They are weak, and they are too busy working, and they have no taxpayer money to maintain their own media to conduct counter-propaganda. That’s a different profession.
While in opposition, Orbán has won a massive victory against the government blocking the reform of the crumbling state-financed healthcare system on demagogic grounds. He never forgot the lessons from that victory: 1) To this day he goes out of his way to block opposition referendums, and 2) he hates on healthcare openly and paternalistically.
After ten years in power he can’t really blame the ever-deteriorating state of health care on anyone else (not that he isn’t trying). His top priority is to keep them quiet and not to be a problem for keeping his power. But that was getting more and more difficult, even before the pandemic. Orbán’s local election fiasco in 2019 was chalked up to the state of healthcare, for instance. And that was before Covid.
If it weren’t for Orbán’s massive hatred on healthcare, maybe even a pandemic would have been a great win for him. It is a real threat, which is normally bad for autocrats as they are only really good against imaginary or self-provoked threats. But if he weren’t such an ardent enemy of healthcare, he could have posed as some sort of savior.
And he did try. In the first month of the pandemic he was surprise-visiting hospitals and posting about it like Putin, but then he let the issue go and assigned a woman to be the face of Covid – a surefire sign that it is no longer a priority and she has to take the blows.
And then the attack on doctors came. Everyone wonders what the rationale behind the seemingly mad decision was. And the answer may lie in the usual place: corruption and cronyism.