New French PM Castex pledges €7.5 billion for hospital staff in wake of pandemic

France's new prime minister, Jean Castex, said on Tuesday his government would commit an envelope of €7.5 billion to raise the wages of staff at hospitals badly strained by the coronavirus pandemic.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex arrives for first weekly cabinet meeting at the Elysée Palace in Paris on July 7, 2020.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex arrives for first weekly cabinet meeting at the Elysée Palace in Paris on July 7, 2020. © Ludovic Marini, AFP

"I have insisted for jobs to be at the heart of the discussions," Castex said on Twitter of negotiations between unions, hospital officials and the government, which started before a government reshuffle on Monday.

Officials at the health ministry were not immediately available for comment.

Although France enjoys a reputation for having one of the world's best healthcare systems, hospital staff have been asking for more money, jobs and equipment in the last decade to better address the needs of an ageing population and a shortage of city doctors.

The coronavirus pandemic has strained the system even more with hospitals in the worst-hit areas facing desperate shortages of beds and protective gear.  

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

Last week, the government of outgoing prime minister Edouard Philippe wrapped up 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".

The amount put forward by Castex marks an increase from the €6.3 billion ($7 billion) put on the table by government negotiators at the start of the consultations. However, the increased figure includes pay rises for non-medical staff, who were not part of the initial proposal.

The initial amount had been rejected by unions, who point out that French healthcare workers are already among the lowest paid among the OECD group of developed economies, due to years of budget cuts.


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