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

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".

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

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

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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Burkina junta chief denies diplomatic split from France

Burkina Faso's junta leader said on Friday his country had not severed diplomatic ties with France, which he has asked to withdraw its forces, and denied Russian Wagner mercenaries were in the country.

Burkina junta chief denies diplomatic split from France

Former colonial power France had special forces based in the capital Ouagadougou, but its presence had come under intense scrutiny as anti-French sentiment in the region grows, with Paris withdrawing its ambassador to Burkina over the junta’s demands.

“The end of diplomatic agreements, no!” Captain Ibrahim Traore said in a television interview with Burkinabe journalists. “There is no break in diplomatic relations or hatred against a particular state.”

Traore went on to deny that there were mercenaries from the Wagner Group deployed in Burkina Faso, even as the junta has nurtured ties with Moscow.

Wagner, an infamous Russian mercenary group founded in 2014, has been involved in conflicts in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Ukraine.

“We’ve heard everywhere that Wagner is in Ouagadougou,” he said, adding that it was a rumour “created so that everybody would distance themselves from us”.

“We have our Wagner, it is the VDP that we recruit,” he said, referring to the Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland civilian auxiliaries. “They are our Wagner.”

He said that “all the people want is their sovereignty, to live with dignity. It doesn’t mean leaving one country for another.”

Paris confirmed last month that its special forces troops, deployed to help fight a years-long jihadist insurgency, would leave within a month.

Bloody conflict

A landlocked country in the heart of West Africa’s Sahel, Burkina Faso is one of the world’s most volatile and impoverished countries.

It has been struggling with a jihadist insurgency that swept in from neighbouring Mali in 2015. Thousands of civilians, troops and police have been killed, more than two million people have fled their homes, and around 40 percent of the country lies outside the government’s control.

Anger within the military at the mounting toll sparked two coups in 2022, the most recent of which was in September, when 34-year-old Traore seized power.

He is standing by a pledge made by the preceding junta to stage elections for a civilian government by 2024.

After the ruling junta in Mali forced French troops out last year, the army officers running neighbouring Burkina Faso followed suit, asking Paris to empty its garrison.

Under President Emmanuel Macron, France was already drawing down its troops across the Sahel region, which just a few years ago numbered more than 5,000, backed up with fighter jets, helicopters and infantry fighting vehicles.

About 3,000 remain, but the forced departures from Mali and Burkina Faso — as well as the Central African Republic to the south last year — underline how anti-French winds are gathering force.