France: Health Workers Strike for Better Health

On 14 November, health and social care workers across France will embark on a national general strike to defend the public health and social care system.

They are demanding; enhanced staffing levels, improved remuneration for health and social care workers, more bed spaces in hospitals and 5% increase in the budget line of the national health insurance expenditure target (ONDAM), provided for in the Social Security Financing Bill 2020 (PLFSS).

The strike is the culmination of a series of union actions to drive home the gravity of the situation and urge the government to take necessary action. But the government’s response has hardly addressed the problems.

Emergency room staff at dozens of French public hospitals staged short walkout strikes in May, to protest working conditions. Emergency rooms have reached “breaking point” because of understaffing, and emergency room staff continued the wave of strikes for six months.

On 8 October, more than 5,000 pictures taken by health professionals showing their working conditions were pasted in front of the ministry of health. After this, the CFDT-Santé Sociaux wrote to each of the Members of Parliament and Senators. This was followed up with demonstrations and warning strikes on 8 and 15 October as well as a protest march on 29 October in front of the ministry of health.

France is considered as having one of the best healthcare systems in the world. But public health and social care workers who constitute the backbone for delivering quality health services are underpaid. The system is also grossly understaffed. The consequence of this on health workers cannot be overemphasized, with fatigue and burnout becoming everyday occurrences for many workers. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.

The CFDT-SS has organised a series of surveys over the last two years, under the banner Je Suis une Richesse (I am resourceful), which draws attention to the place of primary importance of health and social workers for proper functioning of the health system.

The surveys show how frustrated health and social care workers have become despite their passion in providing healthcare for patients, aged care for the elderly and social support services for children, youth and adults requiring social services. With inadequate remuneration and overburdening of work as a result of understaffing, young people are no longer attracted to work as health professionals.

The response of government in September was an announcement to spend €750 million on emergency services in hospitals to deal with overcrowding. But this is too little and too late. Cuts in the funding of health and social services over the last twenty years amounts to more than €8.4bn, as government embarked on fiscal consolidation as part of neoliberal policies which failed to put people over profit.

The impact of these cuts has been monumental. There are now 100,000 fewer beds, 95 fewer emergency units and 50% fewer maternity facilities in the public health system. It is now time to reverse the cuts and ensure adequate investment in the public healthcare system.

Public Services International stands in solidarity with its French affiliates in their struggle. It is a fight to ensure quality public health for all, and against neoliberalism. Ordinary people, health workers and patients alike suffer when governments promote neoliberal policies. The right to quality public healthcare has been hampered by two decades of putting profit before people. Enough is enough, that is the message of the 14 November strike. The French government must heed the call of reason and respect the demands of the unions for improved funding and staffing of the public health system.