France is to spend more than €8bn (£7.2bn) giving health workers a pay rise in thanks for their efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.
After seven weeks of negotiations, prime minister Jean Castex and union leaders signed the deal, which the former hailed as a “historic moment for our health system”.
Health and care workers will see their wages rise by an average of $183 (£165) each month under the agreement – €450m (£407m) of which has been ring-fenced as a bonus for medics in the public sector in a bid to draw health staff from the employ of private companies.
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“This is first of all recognition of those who have been on the front line in the fight against this epidemic,” said Mr Castex, who replaced Edouard Philippe as prime minister at the start of July.
“It is also a way of catching up for years of delay, for which each and every one – including perhaps myself – has their share of responsibility.”
While the French public has been rapturous in their applause and thanks to health workers during the pandemic, anger has risen over the government’s failure to demonstrate this appreciation fiscally – despite president Emmanuel Macron’s pledge at the peak of the crisis to reward health staff.
Monday’s announcement and signing ceremony fell on the eve of Bastille Day, during which a parade will be held on Paris’s Place de la Concorde. Some 1,400 nurses, doctors and carers will attend as guests of honour.
However in a signal that trouble may still lie ahead, some unions failed to back the deal, suggesting it did not go for enough in protecting services and staff.
A Paris branch of the hospital workers’ union CFE-CGC tweeted a map of protests taking place on Tuesday, urging people to denounce the “sham” deal.
Across the Channel in the UK, health workers, unions and the government have been at similar loggerheads over material displays of appreciation for the bravery and sacrifice of health workers, who the government has paid lip service to as “heroes”.
A fortnight ago, on the eve of the NHS’s 72nd anniversary, more than a dozen health unions and organisations called on the government to shelve “ministerial platitudes” and to set up imminent talks for a “beyond substantial” pay rise in 2021/22.
Pressed by Sky News to commit to a pay rise for NHS staff on the service’s anniversary, health secretary Matt Hancock refused to commit to a pay rise, but said health workers would be “rewarded”.
As Boris Johnson organised another Clap for Carers to mark the occasion, health chiefs accused chancellor Rishi Sunak of failing to live up to a pledge to give the service “whatever it needs” by refusing to give £10bn emergency funding to help preparations for a second wave of Covid-19.
There was no mention of additional funding for the health service in his emergency “mini-budget” last week.
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