June 10, 2020 / 4:01 PM / 23 days ago

Spain's Catalonia says thank you to health workers with coronavirus bonuses

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s Catalonia region will hand out 140 million euro ($159 million) in bonuses to medical workers, the first to do so since coronavirus tore through the country and stretched its health service to near breaking point.

Catalonia is Spain’s second-worst affected region with around 5,600 coronavirus deaths out of more than 27,000 nationwide, according to the Health Ministry.

Health workers in the region have been protesting for weeks to demand a salary hike, saying that their wages have still not recovered in real terms from public-spending cuts in 2010.

Employees of the Catalan health service who worked through the outbreak’s March-to-May peak will receive a bonus of between 350 euros and 1,350 euros, depending on their role and exposure to the virus, the Catalan government said.

Workers at nursing home - which have been a significant vector of infections - will receive 900 euros.

“It’s a way of showing that we’re on your side, that we value the incredible effort you’ve made,” regional health councillor Alba Verges told a news conference.

Catalonia will also dedicate 40 million euros in its 2021 and 2022 budgets to broader improvements to its health service.

Catalonia’s largest doctors’ union, Metges de Catalunya, said the payments were a step in the right direction but that authorities needed to go further.

“We feel that we have the support of the people and public opinion but we feel mistreated by the administration, especially since the crisis of 2008,” union secretary general Josep Maria Puig told Catalunya Informacio radio station on Wednesday.

Discontent has been bubbling across Europe, with medical workers often forced to work long hours without adequate protective equipment.

Hundreds demonstrated outside a Paris hospital two weeks ago to demand better pay, while regional budget limits in Italy cut into payments for private health contractors, prompting outrage among health workers.

Reporting by Nathan Allen; Editing by Joan Faus, Clara-Laeila Laudette and Angus MacSwan

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