BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's prime minister has hiked doctors' and nurses' wages, among the lowest in Europe, by 25 percent after medics threatened to strike following a court ruling that they could no longer accept informal payments and gifts.
Victor Ponta approved the raise Wednesday, urging more reforms in the health system. "If it were possible, I would have raised (salaries) by 100, 200, 300 percent, with all my heart because it is correct," he said. The health system is one of the last areas to be reformed in Romania. The increase is effective Oct. 1.
For years, doctors and nurses have depended on "the envelope" — bribes and informal payments slipped into the pockets of their white jackets. Gifts ranging from chickens and fresh fish in rural areas to a bottle of whisky or expensive wine were also customary.
Some 7,000 doctors have emigrated in the past four years due to low pay, low morale and a lack of investment in the system.
Cristian Parvulescu, dean of the National School of Political Studies and Public Administration, said the raise was "a reaction to the threat of a strike, not an attempt to correct the system."
"We will not see an end to informal gifts, not with a 25 percent raise," he told The Associated Press.
Salaries for doctors now start at 1,600 lei ($413) a month, less than the average national wage of 1,860 lei ($480). Union leaders estimate that with the 25 percent raise, a senior doctor would earn 7,000 lei ($1,810).
Officials ignored the system which flourished after communism ended in 1989, there was a lack of solidarity among doctors demanding reforms and decent salaries.
However, a court recently ruled that medics were public clerks and it was illegal to receive compensation, prompting the protests by the College of Medics.