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.
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.
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. More
than half have quit nursing for better- paid jobs and the country's health
service desperately needs them back.
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.
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
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.'
the CGT is still the premier union in