The prime minister’s party has backed the repeal of two royal decrees which caused outrage among nurses and led to at least two unions to issue a strike notice.
The president of the MR Francophone liberal party, Georges-Louis Bouchez, said in a radio interview on Wednesday that the party’s renewed stance aimed to send a message to health workers and nurses that “they had been heard.”
“I can say today that both the prime minister and the MR have called for the repeal of the decrees,” Bouchez said, confirming that he was referring to both decrees slammed by nursing professionals when pressed for details by the radio host.
Nurses and unions had sharply rebuked two royal decrees by Health Minister Maggie De Block aiming to prevent nursing staff shortages if Belgium was hit by a second wave of the pandemic as the government moved to restart the economy.
One decree allowed for nursing staff to be requisitioned and deployed to health care facilities depending on needs while the other allowed unqualified health personnel to deliver nursing care.
Both decrees came at a time when health care professionals were already buckling under the pressure of the first wave of the pandemic, with surveys showing that burnout risks had skyrocketed.
De Block, who belongs to the Open Vld, the MR’s Flemish equivalent, had previously compared the decrees to insurance, saying they were something you paid for but hoped to never have to use.
A timing problem
Bouchez’s announcement on Wednesday follows several calls from the nursing sector for the texts to be withdrawn since they were first published on 4 May.
It also comes after the tensions between health care personnel and the government came to a head at the weekend, in an eye-catching protest against Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès which drew global media attention, and resulted in strike notices after a federal minister compared protesting health workers to children.
“We want to show health care workers, who have been under enormous pressures for too many weeks now, that we have heard them,” he said.
But while nurse’s oppositions centred around the fact that the decrees sidestepped the chronic underfunding of the country’s social security system, Bouchez on Wednesday chalked worker’s ire to poor timing, while also stressing that other parties had backed the decrees.
“Why are these decrees denounced? They are denounced because there was a timing problem, they should have been —if they were necessary— published at the start of the pandemic,” he said.”It was their belated publication that was very badly received.”
Bouchez said that the MR would now wait for the response of other parties, but rejected suggestions that the MR’s move now undermined De Block’s policies.
On Wednesday morning, De Block held talks with union representatives in preparation for a series of ministerial and inter-party meetings on Friday and Saturday.
The Francophone Parti Socialiste, the green party coalition, and the conservative cdH had previously expressed support for the repeal of the decrees.