Bastille Day: Protests As France Gives Tribute To Health Workers

Above photo: French health workers attend a demonstration on the Bastille Day in Paris to urge the French government to improve wages and invest in public hospital in the wake of the coronavirus. Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes. 

Healthcare staff protested in France as the country celebrated Bastille Day, marked by a ceremony celebrating frontline workers during the coronavirus outbreak.

Unions called for demonstrations after they said a new deal that gives a pay rise to health and care workers did not go far enough to help the sector.

Protests for improved wages and investment in public hospitals took place in Paris on Tuesday, where nurses in white coats replaced the usual uniformed soldiers in the capital’s Bastille Day celebration, as the country paid tribute to frontline workers in the fight against Covid-19.

In the 14 July ceremony, medical staff stood silently as lengthy applause rang out over the Place de la Concorde from around 2,000 guests, including Emmanuel Macron, the French president, and the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

A military choir sang the Marseillaise national anthem, and troops unfurled an enormous French tricolour flag across the plaza.

However, as the event unfurled in central Paris, activists flew banners overhead which read: “Behind the tributes, Macron is suffocating hospitals” and “Savings cost us lives”.

Elsewhere in the capital, thousands of people took part in a protest calling for greater support for healthcare workers and the sector, proceeding towards Bastille plaza, where the French Revolution was born on the same day in 1789.

Medical workers’ unions marched to decry cost cuts, and equipment and staff shortages that plagued public hospitals as the virus raced across the country.

One woman dressed in hospital gear held a sign saying: “Devoted, but underappreciated.”

Sylvie Pecard, a protester and nurse in Paris, said: ”We are enormously short of personnel.” She described colleagues falling ill with the virus as Covid-19 patients filled its wards.

“It’s because we haven’t recruited nurses,” she said. “I came here 20 years ago and there were no empty positions. Now all the services are short of personnel, and it’s worse and worse.”

Some unions have not thrown their support behind France’s new deal for healthcare workers, which has promised to dedicate nearly €8bn (£7.2bn) for pay rises.

Jean Castex, the new prime minister, branded the agreement a “historic moment for the health system”.

However, a group of unions called for people to mobilise on 14 July against the “sham” deal, which they suggested does not go far enough to fix problems in the health service.

Health and care workers will see their wages rise by an average of $183 (£165) each month under the plan.

“These salary increases do not match our demands,” Thomas Laurent, a nurse at a Lyon hospital and Inter Urgences union member, told France24.

Mr Castex said the deal – which was signed by union leaders – was “first of all recognition of those who have been on the frontline in the fight against this epidemic”.

He added: “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.”

France has seen more than 207,000 coronavirus infections over the course of its outbreak, and had a death total of around 30,000 as of Tuesday.

Mr Macron has said wearing masks will become compulsory in all enclosed public spaces in the next few weeks, as the country continues its fight against the spread of the disease.

Lockdown measures have started being eased across the country, however there are signs that Covid-19 is returning somewhat.

Additional reporting by agencies