Wednesday, April 26, 2006

French Nurses Strike 1988 & 1991


French Nurses Strikes

When the French authorities used tear-gas and water-cannon on a nurses' demonstration last month, injuring several protestors, it served only to enrage further a profession already at the end of its tether.

Nursing in
France is in crisis. Staff shortages, low pay and poor conditions
of work have led to a veritable hemorrhage from the profession.
There are
some 600 000 French nurses but only 280 000 of them are working.
than half have quit nursing for better- paid jobs and the country's health
service desperately needs them back.

In 1988, a French nurses' strike was big news and now staff are back on the streets saying that the concessions they thought they had won three years ago have amounted to nothing.

The public are backing them, with 78% of those questioned in a poll saying nurses were right to go on strike. And nurses staging a day-and-night sit-in outside the Ministry of Health have been overwhelmed by offers of support — not to mention croissants and coffee — from local residents and from passers-by.

The doctors are on their side too. On October 24 the nurses staged Operation Infirmiere Zero — a one-day strike during which, by agreement, doctors
took on nursing duties.
To keep up the pressure, the nurses are staging a
one-hour walkout every day.

They are anxious to point out that their campaign is on behalf of the patients because standards of care have fallen to an all-time low. One nurse quoted in the latest issue of L'Infirmiere, the French nursing magazine, said she had worked in care of the elderly for 11 years, 'but it's not possible to go on like this any longer. In my area, there are two nurses for 110 beds. The only answer is for me to leave the profession.'

Staff shortages and the extra pressures that leads to are the main grievances, but pay is a real source of discontent too. French nurses are on a pay scale with public sector workers and earn between £750 and £820 a month. However, they want recognition that their work carries more responsibility than postal or
refuse workers and so they are asking to come off that scale and boost their earnings to £950 a month.

The profession also wants improved supplements for working unsocial hours and they regard the £6 extra they are paid for doing a night shift as an insult.

The 1988 dispute led to the formation of La Coordination Nationale Infirmiere, the first-ever union in
France solely for nurses. One year later, mainly as a result of personality clashes, a breakaway Union Infirmiere France was set up. Both unions share the same goals but their leaders are unable to settle their differences and form a united front.

While nurses continue to hand in their notices in increasing numbers, it is also becoming harder to recruit new entrants to the profession. In another public poll, more than half of those questioned said they would hesitate to recommend nursing as a career for their children.

Meanwhile, a recent headline in a daily paper sums up the current black mood. 'Infirmiere, un travail de chien.' 'Nursing is dogs' work.'

Janet Snell

Nursing Times 6 November 1991

the CGT is still the premier union in France for nurses. UNISON works closely with the CGT