Underpaid nurses leaving public health-care system for jobs in retailing

June 23, 2017

Nurses are leaving the public health-care system for jobs in commerce in pursuit of higher wages, reports daily online index.hu.  It is rumored that a complete ward had to be shut down at a Budapest hospital after all the nurses left to take jobs at a new IKEA.

The following anecdote, which purports to illustrate how uncompetitive the Hungarian public health-care system is, was told by president of the Chamber of Hungarian Skilled Healthcare Workers Zoltán Balogh [not to be confused with Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog] at the Hungarian Hospital Association’s April conference:

A highly educated nurses worked at a university clinic. She had 25 years of professional experience. She worked with imaging processes essential for hospital diagnosis. This year she decided to change jobs. She started to work at IKEA where she can earn 20-30 percent more and is provided with a very attractive cafeteria system.

Index.hu contacted the South-Pest Hospital were the rumored mass resignation took place, and the hospital denied the rumors. However, four job advertisements were published by the South-Pest Hospital on the Chamber of Hungarian Skilled Healthcare Workers’ website on Wednesday. According to the advertisements the hospital is about to hire one nurse each for neurology, cardiology, and the decubitus group that deals with bedsore patients, as well as a health-care administrator.

“Nurses practice a human-centered profession that can be used in other human-centered specialized services,” Balog said. “A store cashier or a sales clerk work with people too, and these jobs also require stamina.” He said picking up a job in commerce is not a big change for nurses because they are used to working at weekends and early starting hours. Balog listed the lack of responsibility for human life as another possible advantage of commerce jobs over health-care ones.

Despite steadily increasing wages in the sector, the average salary of skilled health-care workers still falls far behind that of people working in retailing. Nurses who often work overtime and are in danger of increased stress due to the nature of their work earn a gross HUF 160-180,000 (USD 435-650) on average, which, depending on the number of children and other conditions, amounts to an average net monthly salary of just HUF 111-168,000 (USD 400-605).

IKEA told index.hu that the starting gross salary in the case of regular employees is gross HUF 202,000 (USD 730) plus benefits, cafeteria, yearly bonuses and a pension program. According to index.hu’s information, the labor shortage is so great in the commercial sector that some chain stores offer a monthly gross salary of HUF 246,000 (USD 888) for cashiers. Another chain store offers a gross monthly HUF 216,500 (USD 780) for stockers and HUF 296,300 (USD 1,070) for cashiers.

Balogh emphasized that even though the salary of skilled health-care workers increased substantially last year, it was outpaced by the rise in salaries in the commercial sector. He concluded that decision-makers should understand that if the status quo is maintained, more health-care workers will leave to work for multinational corporations, resulting in an increased workload on those who remain, which, in turn, results in further resignations.