35-hour week leaves Paris hospitals in a spin

While the French government insists the famous 35-hour week is here to stay, the notorious 2002 employment reform has caused a real headache for hospital chiefs.

35-hour week leaves Paris hospitals in a spin
Hospital workers strike in Paris on Thursday. Photo: AFP

Hospitals across Paris were hit by a strike on Wednesday as up to 8,000 staff protested against plans to reorganise their working week.

Their gripe is against Martin Hirsch, who heads the APHP which groups together Paris’s 38 public hospitals.

Under pressure to make savings on payroll costs Hirsch wants to reorganise the working week but he has come up against an old problem – the 35-hour working week.

The story goes that as an advisor to France’s Socialist government that brought in the reform, he was promised by then Labour Minister Martine Aubry that hospitals would be exempt from the 35-hour week.

But that promise was never kept and now Hirsch is facing the seemingly impossible task of trying to renegotiate hospital rotas while not touching the sacred 35-hour week.

His aim is to reduce the amount of extra time off staff build up due to the knock-on effects of the 35-day week.

Hospital staff, like most workers in France work on average between 38 and 39 hours a week but they are compensated by doing “overtime” by being giving extra days off known as RTT days.

On average the extra hours worked each week earn them between 18 and 20 extra days off each year.

READ ALSO: French hospital crisis 'just like Thatcher's NHS'

French hospital crisis: 'Just like Thatcher's NHS'

The problem for hospital chiefs is that staff shortages mean workers are not able to take all these extra days off and instead accumulate them in savings accounts.

These have been valued by hospital managers to be worth around €75 million – all at a time when the hospitals are being forced to make cuts.

Hirsch recognises that these days need to be cut but the problem he faces is that hospital staff have understandably grown quite accustomed to the benefits of that 35-hour week.

But he insisted that the changes “will not see the end of the 35-hour week in hospitals or the end of RTT days” and that a reorganisation is essential to save jobs.

Hirsh suggests reducing daily time slots to seven or seven and a half hours would help reduce costs and number of RTT days.

They claim that if they lost these rest days they would face burnout at a time when they are already stretched to their limit. Unions also fear workers will be pushed too hard doing those shifts and they may lose their 30-minute lunch break.

The motto of Thursday’s strike was “Maintain rest, guarantee quality of care”. One banner at the protest near the Paris Town Hall read: “We're not superheroes, we just need a rest”.

Hirsch’s problem is that the French government has ordered hospitals to make €3 billion in savings over the next two years including €860 million off the wage bill.

And things may yet get worse with Health Minister Marisol Touraine saying that over the next two years 22,000 jobs will not be filled once those in the roles retire or quit.

Hirsch will begin negotiations at the end of the month.

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Is Switzerland ‘pilfering’ health workers from France during pandemic?

Officials in the Haute-Savoie area of France have accused private Swiss health clinics of poaching essential healthcare workers.

Is Switzerland 'pilfering' health workers from France during pandemic?
Health care workers from France prefer to work on the Swiss side of the border. Photo by AFP

The headline in Switzerland's Le Temps newspaper reads: “Geneva is pilfering our nurses”.

It comes from an interview with a French MP who laments how France is losing health workers to its neighbour at the height of a health crisis.

“The behaviour of some hospital administrators in Switzerland is totally unacceptable in the context of the health crisis”, Haute-Savoie’s deputy Martial Saddier said in an interview with Le Temps newspaper. 

He was referring to a practice of Swiss clinics recruiting health workers in France which French officials like Saddier says has caused a shortage of personnel in French hospitals in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Saddier denounced several private clinics in Geneva for actively recruiting nursing staff from Haute-Savoie, luring them with salaries that are about two and a half times higher than those paid in the French region.

Though the phenomenon of medical workers from Haute-Savoie ‘migrating’ to Geneva is not new — 60 percent of nursing staff at Geneva’s university hospitals (HUG) live in France — Saddier said these recruitments should not happen during the pandemic. 

“While the number of infected people may be high in Geneva, Haute-Savoie is not spared either, with rates among the highest in France. We need all our vital forces”, he said.

Olivier Teissèdre, director of Hôpital privé Pays de Savoie (HPPS) pointed out that already during the first wave of Covid-19, “350 of our caregivers were recruited in Geneva, which put us in great difficulty. Today I lost 4 percent of my staff and had to shut down a night shift”.

“Now the shortage of caregivers is crucially felt because the care of Covid-19 patients is particularly heavy”, he added.

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At the start of the second wave, the HPSS set up a partnership with another Haute-Savoie medical facility, the Alpes-Léman public hospital.

“But we no longer have enough employees to maintain this partnership because there is too much movement of staff toward Switzerland”, Teissèdre said.

At the start of the pandemic, an agreement was reached with the Geneva authorities to stop recruiting medical personnel from France, but this commitment only concerns public hospitals. No such pact was made with private clinics.

Laurent Paoliello, spokesperson for Geneva’s Health Department said that while HUG, which is a public hospital, has respected the hiring freeze, the canton can’t impose similar restrictions on recruitment policies of private establishments.

“However, we consider it inappropriate to loot the region next door, especially during a pandemic”, he said.

Although the Haute-Savoie officials say that private hospitals have placed ads in a local newspaper, Le Dauphiné libéré, seeking French health care workers, Geneva’s clinics deny advertising in France.

“We only recruit through our site, or on, as well as on social networks”, said Magali Dauwalder, spokesperson for the Hirslanden group of private hospitals, which manages La Colline et les Grangettes clinics in Geneva.

READ MORE: Switzerland rejects further coronavirus lockdown despite 'worrying' situation