Thousands of doctors and nurses rallied Thursday in front of the Latvian parliament in Riga calling for better pay in what was the Baltic state's largest protest in over a decade.
Police said more than 5,000 people, including patients, turned out for the protest, which featured coffins and signs with slogans such as "United for health", "I only want to work one job" and "Patients supporting doctors and nurses".
The LVSADA medical labour union organised the rally to condemn lawmakers for planning to increase their own salaries next year while reneging on a promise to boost wages in the chronically underfunded medical profession.
"We won't allow the healthcare system to be starved again," LVSADA chief Valdis Keris said at the rally, which state hospital employees attended by taking a day of unpaid leave.
Some doctors also participated in the protest by only performing emergency surgery and tending to emergency patients on Thursday while rescheduling everything else.
"The average monthly wage for a doctor at a Latvian public hospital is only between 1,000-3,000 euros ($1,100-$3,300)," protester and doctor Roberts Furmanis said in a statement sent to media.
"I work my daily shift at one hospital, at night I also work overtime driving around in an ambulance, plus sometimes I lecture at medical schools on my rare days off," he added.
"I get less than 3,000 euros a month for those jobs combined. How am I supposed to support my family?"
Last year, lawmakers voted to raise wages for almost all employees of the government-run healthcare system, but now say that they are unable to find the necessary funds in the 2020 state budget.
"I express deep regret for last year's promise, which we cannot carry out," speaker of parliament Inara Murniece told the rally.
Those protesting, however, point out that the 2020 state budget exceeds 10 billion euros for the first time ever in the country of just 1.9 million people -- or 700 million more euros than this year.
Medical workers are upset that while there is no room for better healthcare wages in the new budget, the country's lawmakers and ministers plan to increase their own salaries next year and have also earmarked taxpayer money for their respective political parties.
Thursday's rally was Latvia's largest since some 10,000 people attended a January 2009 protest against government cuts, which grew violent and resulted in dozens of arrests.
Demonstrators brandished a poster reading 'OK Mr MP, I've stitched a third -- the rest will follow later'