Hundreds of workers at COVID-19 labs in France went on strike on Thursday, a union said, angry at poor working conditions as the coronavirus testing system warps under huge demand.
The far-left CGT union said the strike is disrupting testing in some cities and could drag on if lab owners fail to cope with staff shortages and raise wages.
The strike comes as the government demands increasingly rapid testing to tackle an outbreak of new coronavirus cases.
“We are overwhelmed,” said Aminata Diene, a laboratory nurse, one of 50 laboratory workers who demonstrated in front of a diagnostic center on the edge of Paris.
The 31-year-old woman said her bioclinic lab in Bezons, which is staffed by four nurses and would normally process 40 COVID-19 tests per day, has been closed following the strike.
“We can’t be on the phone, physically greet patients and perform tests at the same time. We are exhausted, physically and mentally.
France has multiplied by five tests since the peak of the first wave and now performs more than a million tests per week. But in some testing centers, people are lining up around the OR and results can take days due to the bottleneck in the labs.
Le Figaro reported that in a meeting with senior ministers last week, President Emmanuel Macron said: “A million tests is fine, but it’s useless if the results come too late. “
The government issued an executive order on Wednesday paving the way for antigen testing that gives a result within 20 minutes and could ease the pressure on RT-PCR testing.
He said the antigen tests would initially be used for hospital workers, nursing home staff and travelers at airports, a spokeswoman for the Paris regional health authority said.
Pascal Boudeau, a 35-year technician at a medical lab outside Paris, said management had to start listening after ignoring calls for help for weeks.
“We are out of breath. We are assaulted verbally, sometimes physically. The pace is relentless, ”said the CGT member. “We have given up counting the overtime that we do for free.”
The strike by laboratory workers coincided with street protests organized by the CGT and several small unions in many cities in France.
The CGT accuses Macron of destroying the French social security system, of ruining public services and of placing the interests of large companies on those of workers even as the coronavirus destroys the economy and forces job cuts.
The situation demanded “a deep reform in complete rupture with the social and economic policies of the time”, declared the unions in a joint statement.
Macron’s reforms to liberalize the economy and boost French competitiveness sparked sometimes violent waves of protests during his three years in office.
Subscribe to Coronavirus Update Bulletin to read the news, features and essential explanations of the day on coronaviruses written by journalists and editors at The Globe.