With a nationwide day of action on Wednesday, the French trade unions wanted to draw attention to the shortcomings in the health system that have been growing for years, which are only made more apparent by the current corona epidemic. They demand better material equipment in public and private hospitals as well as better working conditions and wages for employees. To this end, negotiations between the prime minister and the ministers concerned should take place immediately with the trade unions about a reorientation of the health system and an increase in the corresponding items in the state budget. To emphasize these demands, a demonstration is taking place in Paris in front of the Ministry of Health. On the other hand, warning strikes are largely dispensed with because of the tense situation in the hospitals.
The trade unions state that the health care system has been “saved to pieces” for 20 years by reforms with a neoliberal tendency. It is more about management than medicine and more about profitability than health. Too little is invested in infrastructure, technology and personnel. Dozens of smaller hospitals have closed in France over the past two decades, saving a total of 100,000 beds, 17,500 in the past four years alone.
For some time now, the French have noticed that their public health system, which until the turn of the millennium was one of the best in Europe, is gradually losing quality. The outbreak of the corona epidemic with the lack of breathing masks and tests that persisted for weeks showed the consequences of saving on previous state reserves. Too few beds and ventilators in the intensive care units, which have also been reduced in number, made the disaster even more apparent, emphasize the unions. This cannot be compensated for by the unparalleled commitment of the employees. After months of overload, the employees are at the end of their tether. All too often they cannot take the days off and overtime compensation they are entitled to due to a lack of staff. According to surveys, 17 percent of them rate the situation as “catastrophic and completely hopeless”, especially since there is no prospect that the shortage of staff will be compensated by hiring and training additional employees. The misery can be seen, for example, in the fact that the number of accidents, days absent due to illness and demonstrably work-related long-term illnesses are higher in the health care sector than in the construction industry. In this context, the health care unions are calling for Covid-19 to be recognized as an occupational disease.
The pay of the nurses and comparable staff groups, which form the basis of the health system, has fallen far behind that of their colleagues in other European countries. In an OECD comparison of 32 European countries, France ranks 28th. Last year, in negotiations with the government, the unions were able to enforce a monthly tax-free bonus of 183 euros for the nurses as a gesture of thanks for their committed work in the corona crisis. But other professional groups and the employees of the private clinics received nothing.
The unions also criticize the state’s industrial policy. The government has allowed a large part of drug production to migrate to low-wage countries. As a result, there were more or less prolonged delivery problems with certain drugs 2400 times in the past year. That is four times as many as in 2016. The unions are calling for a state pool for drugs to secure the country’s pharmaceutical sovereignty.
At a time when vaccines are being waited around the world that can put an end to the current corona crisis and initiate a return to normalcy, there is also a lack of understanding among the public that the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi last week the dismissal of up to 600 Employees in research and development. The company cannot deliver its own vaccine before the end of the year.
The trade unions recall that Sanofi has laid off 5,000 of its 25,000 employees in the past ten years, halving the number of 6,000 employees in research and development. On the other hand, Sanofi has been paying dividends to its shareholders for 26 years, which totaled almost four billion euros in the past year of the corona crisis. The Sanofi CEO earns 343 times as much as a nurse.