South Korean nurses hold a protest after Yoon vetoes nursing bill
Participants take selfie with signs that read "Nurse act", as nurses and university students majoring in nursing take part in a protest against President Yoon Suk Yeol vetoing a nursing act that defines the roles and responsibilities of nurses, in Seoul, South Korea, May 19, 2023. Reuters

Tens of thousands of South Korean nurses went on strike on Friday after President Yoon Suk Yeol vetoed a law to improve their pay and working conditions amid protests from doctors and nursing assistants who said the bill would hurt their jobs.

The bill passed the opposition-led parliament last month, prompting protests from some medical workers who said the new law would open the door for nurses to provide treatment without a medical license.

Nurses say that the doctors' claim is groundless, and that the country needs more care centres to cope with its rapidly aging population.

In vetoing the bill, Yoon said that the new law caused excessive conflict among medical workers, and that nursing practices outside medical institutions would cause public anxiety over the healthcare system.

The Korean Nurses Association, which led the walkout, strongly denounced Yoon, saying he abandoned his promise as a presidential candidate to improve nurses' working conditions.

"We will make the politicians and the bureaucrats pay the price for leading the president to veto the bill," association president Kim Yeong-kyeong said, referring to next year's general elections, during a demonstration in Seoul's bustling Gwanghwamun district.

The impact of the strike was seen as limited so far, as most protesters used holiday time or shortened business hours, with major hospitals operating normally.

South Korea's Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong presided over an emergency response meeting on Friday and urged medical facilities to closely monitor the situation to prevent the strike from affecting patients.