The South Korean government is seeking to have its first talks with doctors who have walked off the job in protest of a plan to increase slots of medical schools, as a deadline looms for them to return to work — or face punishment.

The Health and Welfare Ministry said Thursday it has proposed having talks to address the 10-day walkout by about 9,000 trainee doctors. The labor action has led to about a 50% reduction in surgeries, people being turned away from emergency rooms and strains to the health care system.

"Today is our last day of waiting for trainee doctors to make the right judgment and decision,” Minister of the Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min said in a government meeting where he implored them to end their walkout. He said "desperate patients are waiting for surgeries,” and the government will work to improve labor conditions.