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Hospital workers rally across France in push for budget hike

Health workers hold a banner reading "Public hospital in vital emergency" as they rally in Marseille on June 30, 2020.
Health workers hold a banner reading "Public hospital in vital emergency" as they rally in Marseille on June 30, 2020. © Clément Mahoudeau, AFP

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

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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.

Health workers are now determined to turn the broad public sympathy enjoyed during the pandemic into tangible advances for hospital and nursing home employees – those President Emmanuel Macron has lauded as "heroes in white coats".

>> ‘Victory’ at what cost? How Covid-19 exposed cracks in French healthcare

Prime Minister Édouard Philippe promised "significant" pay increases when kicking off the talks last month, and officials have already put an additional €6.3 billion ($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 a month, a move that would cost some €14 billion.

>> French health workers angry as reforms threaten famous 35-hour working week

"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.

Hospital workers also want assurances that there will be no more of the hospital closures that have turned swaths of rural and suburban France into so-called “medical deserts”.

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.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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