Following outcry, Belgian minister ‘deletes’ criticism of hospital workers’ protest

Belgian federal minister Marie-Christine Marghem had criticized staff of the Saint-Pierre University Hospital in Brussels, who were protesting the government’s insensitivity towards health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic

May 19, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Hospital staff protest-Belgium
Hospital staff protest against Belgian prime minister Sophie Wilmès on Saturday.

Belgium’s minister for energy, environment and sustainable development, Marie-Christine Marghem, was forced to delete a social media post criticizing health workers’ protests in the country following widespread criticism. On May 17, Sunday, the federal minister had criticized the protests by health workers against the prime minister. 

Her remarks were targeted at the staff of the Saint-Pierre University Hospital (CHU Saint-Pierre) in Brussels who held a silent protest on Saturday afternoon by turning their backs when prime minister Sophie Wilmès arrived. They were protesting the government’s insensitivity towards health workers during the COVID-19 emergency.

Marghem, from the right-wing Reformist Movement (MR), posted on Facebook that the protests at Saint-Pierre Hospital were ‘”ridiculous and politicized”. She deleted the post later in the day following widespread public outrage. According to reports, medical staff in Belgium are unhappy with two recent royal orders pushed by the minister of health, Maggie De Block, on the requisitioning of nursing staff and the delegation of nursing work to non-nursing staff. The video of the hospital workers’ protest on Saturday went viral on social media and has been trending in several countries.

Julien Hamza Versteegh, member delegate of socialist union FGTB, explained the actions of the hospital staff in a Facebook post on Sunday, “Why do we do it? By adherence to what makes a public service, a service to the public, by vocation to help others, by moral and human duty, by conscience, to give quality care accessible to all. With respect and solidarity. It was this government and previous governments that slashed the budgets of Social Security and health care. It was Sophie Wilmès when she was Minister of the Budget.”

Reacting to the federal minister’s insensitive remarks, Raoul Hedebouw, MP from the Workers Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA), stated “What arrogance of our political elites! Let her come one day to work in a hospital and see with her own eyes the difficult working conditions of hospital staff.”

“This is exactly the same reaction we saw when, as early as November, the PTB sounded the alarm about the situation in hospitals. “Populists!”, “you’re exaggerating”, etc, etc. etc… But be careful, dear MR Ministers, the people’s anger and combativeness are growing deeper and deeper… And your contempt only feeds it,” he added.

Sources from PTB/PVDA told Peoples Dispatch, “Nursing staff across the country are struggling due to low wages. They want extra staff and an end to cuts in the sector. They are also unhappy about the way the government handled this crisis, making it possible for staff to be forced to come to work.”

Belgium has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of May 18, around 55,559 people have contracted COVID-19 and 9,080 people have died in Belgium.