The trade unions which called the strike were CFDT, CGT, FO, SUD, UNSA, CFTC and CFE-CGC. They were protesting the insufficient resources allocated by government, which has resulted in reduction of the social services workforce responsible for elderly care. This runs against the “Great Age Solidarity Plan” unveiled by the French government in 2006, which envisaged the need for increased staffing levels by 2012.
On the contrary, as a survey by CFDT-Sante Sociaux last year shows, staff strength and working conditions in health and social services are grossly inadequate. The struggle of French unions for satisfactory staffing levels for elderly care is a struggle for respect and proper care for the aged, and also in defence of social workers, many of whom suffer burnouts as a result of overwork in desperate attempts to fill the personnel gaps of care for elderly people.
PSI and its affiliates have always stood up for safe and effective staffing for health and social services. The health and social workforce constitute the backbone of services delivery in the sector. Quality elderly care, like other social services, cannot be provided without enough well-motivated staff to provide this.
It is thus urgent and essential to improve the working conditions for staff in nursing homes as well as for those that provide home care. It is equally time for the French authorities to employ more social workers in line with the Great Age Solidarity Plan, as demographic changes are resulting in an increasing number of the elderly, who need to be cared for.
The 30 January strike is a warning sign that the unions are ready to fight for safe and effective staffing in defence of quality elderly care. PSI calls on the French government to heed their demands: employment of more social workers; improvement of wages and working conditions, and; respect for the elderly who deserve more.
As we noted in the PSI solidarity message to the 33rd Federal Congress of CFDT Santé Sociaux last November, decades of neoliberal policies globally have resulted in dire consequences for the public health system such that “even in the richest of countries, like France, health workers are called on to sacrifice their well-being while caring for others…. And, when health workers suffer, patients don’t get the level of care they deserve.”
The strike for adequate staffing for the provision of elderly care in France is part of a renewed wave of trade union struggle for a paradigm shift in government policy thrust from the subsisting neoliberal regime to one which prioritises people over profit.