THE FRENCH government has been forced by the mass actions of the health workers’ trade unions to concede pay rises worth 8bn euros (£7.2bn) after millions of French workers hailed their role in fighting coronavirus, and demonstrated every night in support of their strike actions.
The deal was signed with trade unions on Monday. The agreement will see the wages of health workers rise by 183 euros a month on average.
The deal was hailed by the new French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, as a ‘historic moment for our health system’ after the signing ceremony that followed seven weeks of negotiations between government and unions.
‘This is first of all recognition of those who have been on the front line in the fight against this epidemic,’ he said. ‘It is also a way of catching up the delay. For each, and every one, including perhaps myself, has their share of responsibility.’
Health workers had held many protests to insist that they wanted more than government and public recognition over their role in battling the coronavirus pandemic which saw more than 200,000 infections and 30,000 deaths in France.
The Macron government however had used the state forces to intervene against these demonstrations.
At least 50 healthcare workers were fined and three people were arrested for a protest outside a hospital in Paris on May 21, when more than 400 doctors, nurses and ancillary staff wore scrubs and banged trays and pans to demand better funding for the hospital.
Police Officers demanded that the protesters disperse, and gave those who refused a 135 euro on the spot fine! On June 16, police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of masked health workers who threw stones and other projectiles and overturned a car. Officials said 19 officers were injured and more than 30 arrests were made.
However yesterday, on the French National Day parade on July 14th on the Place de la Concorde in the capital Paris, around 1,400 nurses, doctors and carers watched as guests of honour of the French president.
The Force Ouvrière trade union said of the deal: ‘It will mark an important turning point for hospital staff and nursing homes … Prime Minister, the hospital world has great distrust of the words and promises of politicians. This agreement should quickly restore this confidence.
‘We have a few months to pass from words to deeds and we must, following on from Ségur, open negotiations on claims that could not be incorporated into this protocol … Force Ouvrière remains and will remain a free and independent union.’
The CGT trade union refrained from signing the accords, an indication that tensions over the issue may not be over.
This victory of the French health workers is of great interest to health workers in the UK, who have fought the same heroic battle against the coronavirus and taken heavy casualties, namely the deaths of many self-sacrificing health workers.
The Unite union has joined with 13 other UK health unions and professional organisations to launch a campaign to demand that pay talks start as soon as possible out of respect for the dedicated UK NHS staff who have battled Covid-19.
Unite national officer for health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, said: ‘Doctors, nurses and health workers of all hues, including student nurses and those who came out of retirement, stepped up to the plate big-time when the lockdown was imposed in March and the NHS was under severe pressure – and, sadly, more than 300 NHS and social care workers have now died after being infected with coronavirus.
‘NHS staff don’t want ministerial platitudes on pay, but a beyond substantial pay rise for their commitment, especially over the last few months when they have put their lives on the line, literally.’
The health trade unions and all of the TUC trade unions must be ready to take industrial action, including general strike action, to secure the ‘beyond substantial pay rise’ that NHS workers have earned with their heroic and on-going battle against the coronavirus.
If the Tories will not concede they must be brought down by the trade unions and replaced with a workers government that will certainly give NHS workers a ‘beyond substantial’ pay rise.