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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les urgentistes en grève

by Lucy Bateman

Emergency Room Staff on Strike

Translated Sunday 30 December 2007, by Gene Zbikowski

Health care. The French public hospitals have not paid their employees for 23 million hours of overtime work. Negotiations are to begin in January.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited the Necker children’s hospital “to encourage the employees working the holiday shift,” and Health minister Roselyne Bachelot visited the emergency room at Saint-Antoine hospital. The politicians were putting on a show of being attentive to the problems of hospital staff, whereas emergency room doctors were striking to obtain payment of their overtime hours. The unpaid overtime hours must now be counted in the millions, 23 million to be precise, to which must be added 3.5 million unpaid RTT days [1] that the public hospitals owe to the entire staff.

A disputed statement.

When Roselyne Bachelot visited Saint-Antoine hospital – the backyard of Patrick Pelloux, the president of the Association of Emergency Room Doctors (AMUF) – she said that “discussions” on the unpaid overtime, which is estimated at 800 to 900 million euros, would open on January 7. She added that she had 572 million euros, including 324 million euros provided by the hospitals themselves, continuing: “We’ve got the money, but a certain number of modalities have to be clarified.” Patrick Pelloux disputed the minister’s statement during her visit, saying “A certain number of representatives of hospital management are present. They’re quite astonished, this money hasn’t been budgeted and no one knows where it is to be found.”

Increasingly difficult working conditions.

Christophe Prudhomme, a hospital doctor and a member of the CGT doctors collective, emphasized that “the money doesn’t exist – the hospitals that should have budgeted for it have such restricted budgets that they were unable to do so. We don’t need another bureaucratic committee to know how these overtime hours are to be paid – they’ve got to free up the 900 million euros, discuss wage hikes, in particular for nurses, and address the problem of medical demography.” For Prudhomme, himself an emergency room doctor, the increasingly difficult working conditions are driving doctors away.

Emergency room staff in the public hospitals are threatening to harden their strike in January. Patrick Pelloux stated that he expected nothing to come of the minister’s visit and said that “if the government doesn’t show signs of willingness to dialogue (...), after January 1st we’re probably not going to comply with mandatory work orders [2].” Marc Giroud, the president of SAMU de France, the other emergency room staff trade union that is backing the strike, said that the minister had expressed “nice intentions, which is not enough.” “They’ve got to come up with something (on January 7). If these discussions are just a song-and-dance, the way our anger is expressed is going to change.”

The AMUF is also demanding an increase in payment for on-call hours. At present, university hospital doctors are paid 450 euros an hour, emergency room doctors are paid 250 euros, while private sector doctors are paid 150 euros plus payment for each medical act. The on-going strike is 100% effective in the emergency medical service (SAMU) and 80% in the public hospitals, according to the AMUF. If the strike is hardened, this could impact some scheduled surgery and medical treatment, due to the temporary shifting of doctors from other wards to the emergency room.

[1RTT stands for « réduction du temps de travail » (reduction in working hours). While workers in France enjoy a legal 35-hour work week, they usually continue to work 39 hours a week, so as not to disorganize working schedules. The extra four hours a week are accumulated to form RTT days, which most workers use as extra holiday time. When the RTT days cannot be used as holiday time, the employer must pay the worker for the time worked.

[2During strikes at public hospitals, minimum service requirements are filled by issuing mandatory work orders to striking members of staff.

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