Why are French hospital workers taking to the streets to protest (again)?

Why are French hospital workers taking to the streets to protest (again)?
Thousands of health workers took to the streets across France on June 16th to protest the government's plan to overhaul the country's public health care system. Photo: AFP
Hospital workers in dozens of French cities will take to the streets on Tuesday to protest over the government’s plan to overhaul the country's public health care system, calling the €300 billion promised by the health minister "way off mark".

After weeks of intense talks between the French government and representatives from the hospital sector aiming to hammer out a plan for France’s future health system, unions were not happy with the results.

“We are way, way off mark,” said Jean-Mark Devauchelle, General Secretary of the union SUD-Santé, to BFMTV on Tuesday, as unions were planning to rally in a string of French cities for the second time in two weeks.

Hospital workers wanted to show their dismay with the outcomes of the so-called Ségur de la santé, the seven-week long process renegotiate salaries, working conditions and general organisation of healthcare services in cities and rural areas of France.

The name of the process has been taken from the avenue de Ségur, the street in Paris where the health ministry is located, and has been described as “perhaps the most important moment” of Macron's presidency by French media.

EXPLAINED: Why France is planning a massive overhaul of its healthcare system

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During the negotiations, the government has promised to put €300 billion on the table for the whole of the country's hospital workers, plus €6 billion for the non-medical workers, announced by Health Minister Olivier Véran on Monday evening.

The money would be spread out on targeted measures like grants and overtime payments – but unions rejected the proposal “enormous disillusion,” claiming it was far from enough.

Unions were hoping for an even stronger turn-out on Tuesday than two week earlier, when roughly 100,000 health workers took to the streets all over France, according to police (160,000 according to the organisers).

“We must keep up the pressure on the government and force it to engage in real negotiations,” wrote the hardline union CGT in a press statement.

“Nurse and be quiet,” says the mask of one of the protesters on June 16th. Photo: AFP

A turning point

Street protests by hospital workers are nothing new in France, and before coronavirus health crisis unions were organising street protests for months to get the government's attention.

“Unless we see a shock to the attractiveness (of the profession), we obviously fear a flight of personnel,” said emergency doctor Christian Prudhomme to BFMTV.

The pandemic became an important turning point for the protesters as it – by pushing the country's hospitals to the brink in the hardest hit areas and turning health workers into national heroes fighting the pandemic on the front line – shed light on growing cracks in France's public health care system, vaunted as one of the best and most generous in the world for users, but which pays its workers less than most European peers.

READ ALSO: Can France's hospitals survive both the coronavirus and the looming economic crisis?

The government will make announcements on the results of the Segur de la Sante in the week of July 6th and another protest is planned on July 14th, France's national day, which the government has dedicated as a tribute to the country's health workers.

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