'Livid' healthcare staff to strike after minister slams hospital protest

'Livid' healthcare staff to strike after minister slams hospital protest
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A healthcare trade union has lodged a strike notice, hitting back at the "insufferable" comments of a federal minister about a protest staged in a hospital during a visit by Belgium's prime minister.

The Setca trade union said that the workers' strike will take the form of different protest actions but not involve a work-stoppage.

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"We are in the middle of a pandemic, people need to be treated. Our workers are not deserters, they will never turn their backs on their patients," union representative Nathalie Lionnet told The Brussels Times.

Lionnet said that recent comments by Federal Minister Marie-Christine Marghem about a hospital protest in Brussels were seen as the last straw by workers already dealing with chronic undersupplies and staff shortages at work.

Over the weekend, Marghem compared nurses, doctors and other health care professionals taking part in the strike in Brussels' Saint-Pierre Hospital to "children who did not get what they want."

Saint-Pierre staff gave a chilly welcome to Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès, turning their backs to her as her vehicle pulled into the hospital parking lot for an unofficial visit on Sunday.

"A politician with the [Francophone liberal] MR party saying that health care staff are like spoiled children is completely insufferable for us, it shows that [politicians] do not get it," Lionnet said.

"Our members are livid," she added." With the strike, they will seek to express themselves and raise awareness among the population so that things can change."

"What we want are solutions," she said. "We want everybody to understand what is at stake. Ultimately, a decision at the political level needs to be taken to refinance Belgium's social security."

"When you see a nursing home with some 80 patients running with only one nurse and two auxiliary nurses... solutions need to be found," she said.

Second strike notice in days

Setca's strike notice concerns employees working in private hospitals, nursing homes as well those providing at-home nursing care and working in other health care facilities in the private sector.

The union's notice is the second lodged by a union representing health care staff since last week, after the CSC public services union issued a strike notice on Friday concerning public health services in Brussels and Wallonia.

Both unions' moves speak to the growing dissatisfaction among health care workers over the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis, perceived as having been exacerbated by serious underfunding of the country's social security system.

Lionnet said an action plan was being discussed internally and that the calendar for the strike, issued for an "indefinite" period, will be published in the coming days.

Dissatisfaction among health care workers has been growing for years, with both strike notices bringing to a head weeks of simmering tensions between health care workers and the government since the start of the pandemic.

On Friday, nurses in Brussels and Wallonia said they were "outraged" at two royal decrees meant to avoid nursing shortages in case Belgium faces a second wave of the pandemic, which they denounced as a stop-gap solution to a structural problem.

"It's been years since [health care workers] say that things are not going well, there's not enough of us, and the [Covid-19] crisis has only exposed this," Lionnet said.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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