Nursing students protest against low wages

Some 500 nursing students in Umeå, in northern Sweden, are taking a stand and demanding higher entry wages. They're encouraging all nurses to turn down any job with a monthly salary of less than 24,000 kronor ($3,500), according to reports in local media.

Nursing students protest against low wages

“I think their demand is entirely reasonable,” Lotta Hjelte, vice chairwoman of the Västerbotten regional division of the Swedish Association of Health Professionals (Vårdförbundet), told local newspaper Västerbottens-Kuriren.

Sara Selin, one of the protest’s organizers, is hopeful that this will lead to change.

“There are a lot of us now, and the counties are in need of very many nurses for summer work, so we’re a major group who have a real chance of making a difference,” she said to radio station SR.

24,000 kronor is the average monthly salary for nurses with a general nursing degree in Västerbotten county, according to Västerbottens-Kuriren.

For newly graduated nurses, the average salary in the county is 21,500 kronor.

Västerbotten’s Association of Health Professionals hopes that the nursing students’ demands will lead to raised salaries for the nursing profession overall.

“If new nurses receive 24,000 every month when they start working, the county and municipalities will have to do something about the salaries of those who’re already working,” Hjelte said to SR.

The protest was started by last year’s nursing students, and has since spread throughout Sweden. According to the association, it has already resulted in raised entry wages in the Stockholm area.

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Swedish city Umeå has Europe’s cleanest air

Umeå in northeast Sweden, has been named as having the cleanest air in Europe, according to a new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Swedish city Umeå has Europe's cleanest air
Umeå city centre, home to Europe's cleanest air. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

The EEA published The European city air quality viewer, an interactive tool showing the air pollution levels in 323 cities in Europe. Air pollution is the biggest environmental health risk according to the EEA. 

“This city air quality viewer allows citizens to see for themselves in an easy-to-use way how their city is doing compared to others on air pollution. It provides concrete and local information which can empower citizens towards their local authorities to address the issues,” says Hans Bruyninckx, the executive director of the EEA.

The cleanest air out of all these cities can be found in northern Sweden, in the city of Umeå, which has a level of 3,7 micrograms of fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, per cubic metre of air.

The EEA’s classification of air quality defines four levels of air quality: “good”, “moderate”, “poor” and “very poor”, with “good air” defined as having under 10 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter.

Only 127 out of the 323 cities in Europe are found to pass the limit of “good air” set by both the EU and the WHO.

All of the Swedish cities included in the study – Uppsala, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo as well as Umeå, had “good air” according to the report. Uppsala ranked 6th out of the 323 countries tested, while Stockholm ranked 9th, Gothenburg 23rd and Malmö 93rd. 

Second and third in the EEA’s ranking are Tammerfors in Finland and Funchal in Portugal.

 “Very poor air” was defined as over 25 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter of air and five cities on the index are considered to meet  this standard. Worst of all were Nowy Sacz in Poland, where 27.3 micrograms of particles were found per cubic meter of air, Cremona in Italy and Slavonski Brod in Croatia. 

Despite a reduction in emissions during the Covid-19 pandemic, the remaining 196 countries were all found to have above acceptable levels of air pollution. While lower levels of commuting have led to a decrease in levels of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere, levels of particulate matter have remained stagnant.

The EEA’s experts said that emissions of particulate matter are the result of many different processes, including combustion of fuel for heating of homes, industry, and agriculture.

“White air quality has improved markedly over the past years, air pollution remains stubbornly high in many cities across Europe,” says Bruyninckx.

Last year, an EEA report found that Europe’s air has gotten cleaner in the last decade, but that the bad air caused 417 000 premature deaths across 41 countries in 2018 alone.

A similar study in The Lancet Planetary Health earlier this year found that air pollution causes around 200 000 premature deaths per year in Europe. They stated that if the pollution was lowered across Europe to below the limit of 10 micrograms per cubic meters, the levels recommended by the WHO, around 52 000 deaths could be avoided each year.