Czech Junior Doctors Say No EU Exemption Is Needed For 24-Hour Shifts

24-hour shifts are prohibited by the Czech labour law. Credit: Freepik.

Prague, Oct 9 (CTK) – The Junior Doctors Section of the Czech Medical Chamber (CLK) said today that no European exemption for 24-hour work shifts in hospitals is needed in the Czech Republic, as they are already allowed by EU law. Reacting to the Czech government’s current efforts to obtain an EU exemption, the doctors pointed out that it is only Czech law which prohibits such shifts. 

MEP Vit Kankovsky (KDU-CSL) said at a meeting of the parliament’s health committee three weeks ago that the Czech Republic was trying to obtain an exemption from the European Commission.

In support of their argument, the Junior Doctors cited the Commission’s Director General for Employment, Joost Korte, who said that 24-hour shifts are possible in the EU under certain conditions, such as the provision of sufficient rest. 24-hour shifts are only prohibited by the Czech labour law, they said.

“24-hour shifts do not contradict European law, they contradict Czech law,” they said in a statement. “The reason why labour reports have been falsified in hospitals for years is that we have never explicitly allowed 24-hour shifts in Czech legislation, and the latest amendment to the law even explicitly made them impossible.” The amended Labour Code has been in force since 1 October.

Dana Rouckova, the director of the Labour Ministry’s legislation section, confirmed to the lower house committee in September that the new Labor Code did not recognize 24-hour services. “We are not reducing the possibility of the length of a shift to 12 hours with this amendment. The 12-hour limit has been in place for many years. In fact, I would say that it has never been possible to have a shift longer than 12 hours in the Czech Republic, not even during the communist era,” Rouckova told MPs.

However, some of the numerous doctors among the parliament’s MPs said that it is an “open secret” that 24-hour shifts were being used in hospitals in violation of the Labor Code.

The amendment to the Labor Code, which is mainly a transposition of the European directive on harmonisation of work and family life, introduced various changes that concern, for example, working from home and working based on a work contract. In the health sector, it affects not only the possibility of 24-hour shifts, which doctors want to retain, but also overtime work.

The change would allow health professionals to work up to twice as many hours of voluntary overtime per year, from the current maximum of 416 hours. The Junior Doctors Section has protested against this, with more than 5,600 doctors saying they would refuse to accept overtime work in December.

Health Minister Vlastimil Valek (TOP 09) has promised that the maximum number of overtime hours will return to the original level. Together with Labor and Social Affairs Minister Marian Jurecka (KDU-CSL), he plans to submit an amendment to parliament next week. Valek will meet Junior Doctors chairman Jan Prada on Wednesday.

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