French private health workers prepare for unlimited strike in pay row

Up to 260,000 workers including carers and nurses could join action from June 18. Union claims government and federations have backtracked on promised salary rises

The strike currently has no fixed end date
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Up to 260,000 private healthcare workers are set to go on strike from next Tuesday (June 18) in a row over pay rises and claims that pledges by the government and private hospital federation have been discarded.

The workers include those in the private sector in hospitals, care homes, and thermal medical spas.

The healthcare branch of the CFDT, France’s biggest union, called on its members and other private sector healthcare workers to join the action. The strike has been announced with no official end date and with the ability to be ‘renewed’ daily. 

It claims there had been a ‘secret deal’ between the government and French private hospital federation (Fédération de l’hospitalisation privée, FHP), which would end plans to provide salary increases for the majority of medical workers. 

The exact details of disruption will only be known closer to the date.

As of today (June 12), no other union has committed to strike action.

It comes after workers in both the private and public healthcare sector went on strike on June 11, over the alleged closure of hospital beds and salary increases.

Read more: French healthcare workers on strike over hospital bed closures

CFDT claims federation backtracked on union-approved deal

A planned strike of a quarter of a million private healthcare workers set for June 3 was called off by the FHP in May after they obtained “commitments” from the government over improved pay and conditions.

The CFDT claims this was in fact a behind-the-scenes deal that was offered by the government to the federation without union knowledge.

This deal, it claims, would see pay rises for doctors and management implemented, if the federation agreed to renege on its commitment to ‘avenant (rider) 33’, an update to collective agreements between the government and private hospital staff that would result in large pay increases for most workers. 

Unions and the FHP agreed on the points of rider 33 together, with local union branches voting in approval, before it was submitted for inclusion in the collective bargaining agreements in February 2023.

The update would provide a starting salary locked at 10% above the minimum wage for entry-level workers, clearer career progression and seniority bonuses for many different types of workers.

However, the new deal signed by the FHP and government does not provide pay rises for most employees, and keeps “more than 70 salary coefficients below the minimum wage,” said Fabien Hallet, Federal Secretary of the CFDT’s healthcare wing. 

“The few wage measures provided for in this deal do not concern the sector's nursing homes [EHPADs] and spas, which is scandalous," he added. 

Read more: Read more: UPDATED: Strikes in France in June 2024 and how you may be impacted

‘Government has backtracked’ on pay increases

The union also took aim at the government for backtracking on the agreement. 

Health Minister Frédéric Valletoux allegedly recommended against pay rises for staff in a letter to the FHP, stating that “the government is not in a position to finance [salary increases]... as this agreement was negotiated without any prior financial mandate discussed with the state.”

However, the union pointed to comments by the previous Health Minister Aurélien Rousseau in 2023, who said the government “had set aside a dedicated sum of money” to finance salary increases in the sector. 

Although the private sector is run for profit, agreements between unions (representing workers), the FHP, and the government are all controlled by a 2002 law merging efforts to improve the sector. Part of the agreements include negotiations on salaries, which are partly paid for by the state.

“What right does the state have to interfere in free negotiations between social partners?” said Ève Rescanières, General Secretary of the CFDT’s health branch. 

“We wonder who the health minister is working for… surely not for the employees in this sector,” she added, highlighting that many would not be ‘dé-smicardisées’ (that they would remain working for the minimum wage or lower, in real-terms) 

Read more: What is the net and gross minimum wage in France in 2024?