French clinic bosses go on strike in effort to raise staff wages

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The Independent Online

In the long history of the modern French strike, the nationwide closure of private health clinics this week must be one of the strangest – the bosses are striking for higher wages for their employees.

In the long history of the modern French strike, the nationwide closure of private health clinics this week must be one of the strangest – the bosses are striking for higher wages for their employees.

The owners and managers of the clinics have declared an indefinite strike until the government gives them £600m a year to raise the salaries of their nurses and other staff.

The motive of the clinic owners – often surgeons and other senior doctors – is not entirely altruistic. They complain that the future of private medicine in France is threatened by the generous budget and salary increases given to public hospitals in recent months, partly intended to pay for the nationwide reduction in the working week to 35 hours.

As a result, there has been a reversal of the usual drain of nursing staff from the public to the private sector. The 1,300 private clinics in France – which provide 17,000 of the country's 45,000 hospital beds – are losing highly qualified employees to the state-run hospitals.

Since the fees that clinics charge to their patients are regulated, in part, by the state, their owners argue that the government should help them to raise the wages of their staff.

Nurses in private clinics are somewhat suspicious of their employers' motives. Why, they argue, don't the clinics cut into their profits? "A private consultation can cost a fortune here," one nurse in a strike-bound clinic in Toulouse told the newspaper Libération . "If they say 'hello', you pay. If they say 'goodbye', you pay..."

A gynaecologist at the same clinic said he thought that nurses understood the reasons for the strike. "Well partly at least," he added. "They have difficulty in looking beyond the doctors' Mercedes in the car park."

Negotiations with the government were in progress yesterday. The Employment and Health Ministry had offered a £100m subsidy. The clinics were holding out for the full £600m.

The dispute also reflects a Europe-wide shortage of nurses, made worse in France by the mandatory 35-hour week which has forced hospitals and clinics, both public and private, to create 24,000 new nursing posts.

It is estimated that 20,000 nursing jobs in France are vacant, despite an influx of staff from Spain.

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