Doctors, nurses and other hospital staff staged protests across France, demanding wage increases and budget increases for a healthcare system battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
The rallies took place on Tuesday as the government prepares to wrap up weeks of talks with health workers on Friday overhauling hospitals in response to the crisis.
Employees have long complained about understaffing and low wages that lead doctors and nurses to accept jobs in private clinics. This problem has resulted in a series of strikes over the past year.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe promised “significant” salary increases when talks were launched last month, and authorities have already put an additional 6.3 billion euros ($ 7 billion) on the table.
But that amount is far from enough for many employees. They say French healthcare workers are already among the lowest paid in the group of developed economies Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, due to years of budget cuts.
“They promised six billion euros (6.7 billion dollars) but I’m still waiting to see,” said Louis Rios, psychiatric nurse in the department of Essonne south of Paris, during a walk in the French capital.
“We want a meaningful gesture, and now – not in three years,” he said.
The head of the SUD-Sante union, Jean-Marc Devauchelle, called on the government to increase the sector’s net salary by 300 euros ($ 337) per month, a decision that would cost around 14 billion euros ($ 15.7 billion).
“We need action to match our gratitude,” said Philippe Martinez of the CGT union at the Paris demonstration – a reference to the nightly applause from hospital staff at the height of the coronavirus crisis.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has made social justice a key theme for the last two years of his mandate, is expected to announce the measures resulting from the talks as early as next week.