Taipei, May 12 (CNA) About 200 nurses protested in front of the Department of Health (DOH) Saturday, urging relevant authorities to immediately modify labor laws to prevent hospitals from further exploiting them.
"Let me sleep," shouted Liang Hsiu-mei, a member of the Radical Nurses Union, which was formed recently to address the increasingly deteriorating working conditions for local nursing staff.
Liang presented a sample shift chart that showed how their employers forced them to take care of patients when they didn't have enough rest.
Nearly one in four nurses had the experience of working both the night shift and day shift on the same day, Liang said, citing findings from a survey her organization had conducted.
"Only if we have enough rest can patients be in good hands," she said.
Nurses' working conditions have drawn widespread media attention in Taiwan lately, after a nurse last month posted an article on CNN iReport, the news network's website of user-generated content, describing how Taiwanese nurses are forced to overwork.
"No one knows the problems we are facing," said a nurse from southern Taiwan's Tainan city who refused to be named because of fears of being targeted by her supervisors.
The shortage of staff has caused nurses to not only work long hours but also take care of as many as 10 plus patients per shift, she said.
Although there are 230,000 individuals who hold nursing licenses in Taiwan, only about 40 percent of them are in the work force, according to statistics compiled by health officials.
According to statistics from the DOH, the turnover rate for nurses reached 20 percent last year, which was 3 to 4 percentage points higher than in previous years. About 17,800 people left the profession in 2011.
In a ceremony held to promote distinguished nurses a few days earlier, President Ma Ying-jeou announced a set of guidelines for nursing reforms and promised to improve the working conditions for nurses.
The guidelines were drafted based on suggestions from scholars and specialists, and it detailed as many as 60 strategies to counter the problems in the sector.
But the protesting nurses said: "Our voices remain unheard." They argued that the government has failed to pinpoint the core of the problem, which lies in the inappropriate arrangement of shifts and lack of new recruits to fill in the shortage in nurses.
Relevant authorities are urged to devise laws to ensure the nurses' shifts are properly arranged and that they would not have to constantly adjust their biological clock.
"The DOH stands in line with everyone," said DOH spokesman Wang Che-chao, as he received a protest letter from the nurses.
He promised that the DOH will work closely with the Council of Labor Affairs to come up with ways to regulate nurses' work shifts.
(By Nancy Liu)