Public hospital staff in France are taking to the streets. They finally want more money – for themselves and for the health system.
After the Corona crisis: protest of nurses and doctors in Paris Photo: Nasser Berzane/ABACA/picture alliance
"You applauded us every night at the window, now we count on your support!" That’s the message to the French people from tens of thousands of public health workers who demonstrated in Paris on Tuesday. Demonstrations also took place in other French cities.
Nurses, doctors, paramedical professionals and hospital administrators want more than a "merci beaucoup" from the country’s leaders for their efforts during the covid pandemic. They demand wage increases instead of fine words of recognition or a medal or decorations, as they were magnanimously promised.
"We don’t want this medal, we certainly won’t wear it, It’s downright provocative," says Celine Philippard. She is a secretary in a geriatrics department in Val-d’Oise, north of the capital, and a delegate of the CGT trade union confederation. She confirms that everyone in her hospital has received the 1,500-euro bonus promised by President Macron. But this bonus is just one-time and is also not taken into account for the calculation of the later retirement pension.
The demonstrators want a significant wage increase. On signs and banners, they are demanding 300 euros more per month for everyone without distinction as to salary class, but also a significant increase in the budget of public hospitals and a halt to the reduction in the number of beds for purely cost considerations. With Covid-19, health has become the top priority in France – but this must now be demonstrated in the state budget.
Across France this Tuesday, health care professionals demonstrated, often in their white, bright green or blue work clothes. At the Paris rally, where thousands gathered noisily in front of the Ministry of Health behind the Invalides Cathedral even two hours before the demonstration actually began, a banner bore a slogan that strikingly illustrated the prevailing mood: "White coats, black rage!"
Staff feel disregarded by the authorities
Health services were very poorly prepared for the corona crisis. Staff felt not only overworked but also disregarded by the authorities, explains Pierre Etien Leblanc, a doctor in the intensive care unit at Kremlin-Bicêtre in southern Paris. "The public health system is sick, and has been for a very long time, since funding was reorganized. The right-wing and left-wing governments had only one goal: to reduce costs. Now the state leadership wants to continue as before the Covid crisis, as if nothing had happened!"
Talks are currently underway at the Ministry of Health on Avenue Segur with delegates from the public health services. "I don’t expect anything at all from this Segur palaver," says Leblanc. His medical colleague from the Robert Debre Hospital in Paris, Professor Andre Baruchel, is not optimistic either: "First of all, the non-medical professional categories are too little represented.
The Inter-Urgences collective, which has been fighting for better working conditions in the emergency rooms for 15 months, is not represented at all. And secondly, we were told in advance that these Segur talks were not negotiations, but only hearings."
That the demonstrators will be fobbed off with a token dialogue after the effort in the Covid crisis, which earned them the gratitude of the nation, seems highly unlikely given the imposing mobilization this Tuesday.