French hospital staff protest in push for budget surge


Paris (AFP)

Doctors, nurses and other hospital staff staged protests across France Tuesday to press for pay hikes and budget increases for a healthcare system that was pushed to the edge by the coronavirus pandemic.

The rallies came as the government prepares to wrap up on Friday weeks of talks with health workers on hospital overhauls in response to the crisis.

Employees have long complained about insufficient staff and low pay that prompts doctors and nurses to take jobs at private clinics instead. That issue led to a series of strikes over the past year.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe promised "significant" pay increases when kicking off the talks last month, and officials have already put an additional 6.3 billion euros ($7 billion) on the table.

But that amount falls far short for many employees. They say French healthcare workers are already among the lowest paid among the OECD group of developed economies, because of years of budget cuts.

"They've promised six billion euros but I'm still waiting to see," said Louis Rios, a psychiatric nurse in the Essonne department south of Paris, during a march in the French capital.

"We want a significant gesture, and now -- not in three years," he said.

The SUD-Sante union chief, Jean-Marc Devauchelle, has called on the government to boost take-home pay across the sector by 300 euros a month, a move that would cost some 14 billion euros.

"We need acts that live up to the gratitude," Philippe Martinez of the CGT union said at the Paris demonstration -- a reference to the nightly rounds of applause for hospital staff during the height of the coronavirus crisis.

President Emmanuel Macron, who has made social justice a key theme for the final two years of his term, is expected to announce measures resulting from the talks as soon as next week.