Category: France

Contrat Premiere Embauche (French Labour Law)

Students confront Police at the Sorbonne

Employment law in France is, to an outside observer used to the Anglo-saxon system, all about employee rights. Trade Unions are strong and their socialist leanings mean that acquired employee rights cannot be taken lightly. The desire of the current right-wing government is to make employment law more flexible for employers, allowing them to have recruitment policies which would make their business more profitable at the expense of employee job security. Should it all be about capitalist aims, or rights to employment with job protection and social rights?

The latest change to French law – to bring in a “contrat première embauche” – will allow employers to have newly recruited young employees sign a contract which can be terminated without reason in the first two years. Whilst this may in reality seem like a step backwards (at least to the French), bear in mind that the current option is often an unpaid internship or a multitude of fixed short term contracts before people actually get a permanent contract. This is due to the fact that sacking someone after a few months of a permanent contract agreement have passed is difficult, unless solid proof of their continual poor performance can be provided.

Current French youth unemployment is at 22.8%, so I find it a bit rich when the argument given by students currently striking and occupying their universities, which led to and intervention by the riot police, is that the new law leads them into further precarity. A move made to encourage right-wing capitalist employers to take on young inexperienced staff is surely to be encouraged, whatever your political leaning. If it causes unemployment to rise, then it should be removed. Until then, why not test it? Because let’s face it, whether you have socialist principles or not, the employers that aren’t taking on new staff on a permanent basis are more likely to be right wing.

Image credit: Olivier Laban-Mattei, AFP

Return of Bronchiolitis

Nathan and Mummy in Hospital

Nathan had a regular appointment at the respiratory physiotherapist this Wednesday. He’s been having treatment for a cough and blocked nose. I’m sad to say he’s relapsed and the physio said we should take him to the emergency department at the local hospital as he had become very blocked up. So off we drove and took him into the emergency ward.

The emergency ward took us almost immediately into the emergency paediatric section. As he’s only 3 months old – as of yesterday – he was given priority since breathing difficulties are much more serious the younger the child is. The doctor was kind and we were taken up to the regular paediatric ward after initial treatment by hospital staff who reassured us. The diagnosis was that he’s had a second “attack” of bronchiolitis and he needs respiratory help for a while. He’s been on regular oxygen mask treatment – they add drops of medicine in a breathing mask which vapourises a mix of oxygen and drugs to help him breathe – about three or four times a day. He’s also being treated by the suction of excess mucus from his nose, mouth and trachea.

The key signs of serious problems seem to have been overcome: he doesn’t have a high temperature, his blood oxygen saturation is normal, and he’s eating properly but the poor little fella is still quite blocked up and has rasping breathing tones. He could be in hospital for a few days more, I’m really hoping he’ll start to clear up a bit over the next couple of days. As you can see, his Mummy is being a diamond and looking after him by staying with him most of the time he’s there. I’m off there now.

A Day Near Versailles

Chandelier at the Versailles Palace

Usually when I drive towards Versailles, I’m going to see friends or taking friends to see the palace. Or it’s a wedding, since friends of Yasmina got married in the town hall there just last year. Today, Nathan was going for a follow up test after inconclusive results in a nationwide newborn screening program.

Just 2 or 3 days after birth, all babies born in France have a pinprick of blood spotted in 3 places on absorbent paper. This is sent off to a centralised lab that tests for some detectable congenital disorders. One of those tests is for cystic fibrosis, and Nathan’s initial result wasn’t conclusive (not bad, just not within tolerance for the immediate all clear). Other tests are done for phenylketonuria (PKU), sickle-cell disease, adrenal insufficiency and underactive thyroid. We sent a second blood drip test to the lab, which was also unable to produce a result. So today I went to Le Chesnay near Versailles to spend a day in hospital while he had the sweat test done. They kept us there until the results were known, and since this took from 9am to 3.30pm I’m now very tired. Nathan had flashing electrodes on his arm (sounds horrific, but isn’t) and a kind of coffee filter on his arm soaking up sweat for the alternative test. Two different procedures have to be used to make sure there are no duff results and that both diagnoses correspond.

The national testing program is important as it targets those diseases which have a good outlook if they’re detected and treated early. Thankfully, Nathan’s results were negative. So he’s not carrying any of the diseases screened for in the campaign, and I won’t have to drive to Le Chesnay near Versailles to be at the hospital for 9am on a Monday morning 🙂 in the near future. It’s a good thing we went though, in order to be reassured.

Car on Fire

I was late to work today because on the bridge I take over the Seine en route, a car was stopped with the hazard warning lights flashing.

As I looked to find out why, I saw flames under the passenger wheel. I thought maybe just the tyre was burning. But as I passed, I saw it was even more spectacular: the bonnet was closed but aflame, with acrid smoke billowing above the car. No wonder the traffic was blocked up before I got to the bridge, which was down to one lane. The police weren’t on the scene as I passed by, so it must have happened shortly before I got there.

I wonder could that car have exploded since, or did it just burn until the fire brigade got there? Can a car suddenly overheat so much that it catches alight, or was there some other reason for the car catching fire?

More train strikes

A double decker TGV

As most of you know, the French love to go on strike. Especially the public sector, with the lead generally being held by train workers. Yesterday, the SNCF (French national train company) were on strike, causing packed trains and leaving many people stranded waiting for a train to get home. Even with only 30% (highest estimate) of employees actually on strike, services were reduced to about one third of normal levels. The strike has just been ended with an offer of a 120€ bonus and a pay rise of 0.3% from January, and this before pay negotiations for 2006 have even officially started. Pay wasn’t the main reason given for the strike in the first place: the train unions fear privatisation of the SNCF, something which the government vehemently denies. As I understand it they were therefore on strike because of the fear of privatisation, although no project exists officially in government.

Using public transport in France on a daily basis is a risky business. You will be subject to crowded trains at the best of times, but during strikes your journey to work can be a living hell. During the summer heatwave of 2003, commuters had the double stress of a train strike and hot weather. Packed trains with temperatures at 40°C is something I’ll never forget. The only mitigating factor is that the state subsidises train travel: a monthly Paris métro pass will cost about £35 (51.50€) whereas the London tube equivalent costs £82.20 (120€). Strikes in London are far harder to bear when your travel costs are more than double, thankfully they don’t happen as often.

Train employees have a job for life and a number of advantages like subsidised summer holiday retreats and free train travel for their families. However they are rarely happy with their pay conditions and the travel unions are quick to call for industrial action. If you’re living in France, just be happy that you’re paying less for your tickets and generally have a better quality of service (especially the excellent TGV service) for the moment. For all the arguments about privatisation, look at your monthly ticket costs and perhaps you can console yourself while getting shoved around in a crowded train on your way home.

Image credit: Gerald Brimacombe.

Winter is Here

It’s dropped below 10°C here which means it’s feeling very cold. The heating has been switched on in our flat and cars are already beginning to be frosted if left outside overnight.

The riots have calmed slightly; every night on television the count of burned cars drops, but the figures are still alarmingly high. Gennevilliers, a neighbouring town, has had a share of some of the violence but we are thankfully a little distance from the flashpoints.

Nathan is sleeping 6-7 hour nights. I can put him to bed at midnight and he won’t wake up until 6am. This has happened on most nights over the last week. Most colleagues at work say that we’re very lucky, as he’s only one month old. In fact, he’s one month old today. Happy first month, Nathan. I hope you keep sleeping well in your second month.

Urban Violence in France

Burning car in the Paris area (Reuters)

Residential areas around France are burning. Cars are being torched. Local commerce is being reduced to broken glass, ash and smoke-damaged furniture and fittings. For the last couple of weeks, there have been a number of events around Paris which have caused widespread alarm.

The initial event which seems to have sparked off the violence is the case of a couple of boys who died after being allegedly chased by the police. The ran and climbed into an electricity substation and were electrocuted. Police denials and poor political followup only served to fuel the fire.

At the centre of the political issues is the French home office / internal affairs minister Nicolas Sarkozy (fr), a right-wing politician famously quoted in a previous case of urban unrest as saying “we’ll have to clean up these areas with Karchers”. (Karcher is an industrial cleaning machine manufacturer.) Sarkozy is pushing hard to improve conditions via radical methods in these “difficult areas”. What he means are those mainly poor areas with high percentages of first, second and third generation immigrant families, which are labelled “difficult” by the press and by politicians alike. Sadly, Sarkozy’s hard stance and unfortunate vocabulary is probably doing more harm than good. He is right to say that something must be done, but suggesting things involving industrial cleaners or using other language like “racaille (fr)” which can be interpreted as “yob” by some and “counter-culture” or “bohemian” by others instead of using words like “casseurs” (those who break things) is making him move further to the right and exciting the extremists who are rallying behind the fascist national front.

The violence is spreading at the current time, and some of it is happening quite close to me in neighbouring towns and communities. Yet again the French policy of areas of high rise housing where immigrants and the poor are grouped together coupled with low urban investment is raising its ugly head. France is not a cool place to be when you have the hard right rearing their heads and speaking out against immigrants. Especially when this fuels urban violence around areas where the young and old alike are reduced to auto-destruction of their own areas in order to be heard. I have to face the fact that many French businesses, state services (like town halls, etc) and the middle class are totally out of tune with the difficulties faced daily by those people who are poor, under educated, and living in a parallel economy in their ghettos.

Image credit: Reuters

Sleep Deprivation

Yasmina and Nathan Sleeping

I’ve been busy with Nathan over the last few days, who is now at home and living it up in his bedroom with all his presents and toys. Yasmina left hospital just four days after the birth but I think she’s pleased to be home rather than staying in hospital. Friends have been round to greet the new baby, and have cooed over him and generally been very nice. Grandma and Grandad from England came over to see their first grandson and Grandma is still here while Grandad had to go home to work as he has no holiday left.

Being woken up in the middle of the night has been difficult. Not so much at the time but on the following morning the fatigued feeling makes me irritable. As we get more used to Nathan and he gets used to us, I’m hoping he’ll find a rythmn which suits us all. As you can see in the photo, Mummy tries to sleep at the same time as baby to catch up when she can.

In France babies are prescribed Vitamin D and Flouride supplements every day until they are 18 months old; I don’t know if this practice exists back home in England. They also use a lot of mild saline solution for cleaning baby’s nose and generally in place of water for wiping eyes (whilst closed of course). I’d be interested to hear your experiences of the first few days with your babies and what the medical quirks were like.