“Faced with the tidal wave of infections, the laboratories are in great demand, while continuing to play a key role in the exit strategy for the current wave of the pandemic. A situation that is likely to get even worse with the introduction of the compulsory CovidCheck in the workplace from 15 January,” says Pitt Bach, central secretary of the OGBL's Health, Social Services and Education Union. He also points out that staff, already under strain, are also sometimes faced with “increasingly frequent attacks from customers, who are fed up with the often long queues”.
Last December, the management of Ketterthill noted a growing aggressiveness by patients, reporting “daily verbal outbursts”, but also a physical attack on a nurse working for the private laboratory, an incident that the laboratory's management referred to as “intolerable”.
The OGBL notes that in addition to the aforementioned tension between patients and staff, the laboratories’ employees have to cope with high work rates. Bach points to “the need for regular overtime” to cope with the massive influx of activity in the laboratories' testing centres. Currently, private laboratories are performing “between 1,200 and 1,800 tests per day” at Laboratoires Réunis and “up to 3,500 tests per day” at Bionext Lab.
The union is calling for negotiations aiming to reach a collective sectoral agreement that could improve the working conditions of the 600 or so people employed in the country's private laboratories. “The last two years of the pandemic have clearly demonstrated that laboratory staff and the entire medical biology sector are important and necessary components of our health system. There is therefore an urgent need to improve the working conditions and salaries of private laboratory staff who work every day in a tense atmosphere and under enormous pressure, all with the aim of leading the fight against covid-19,” said Bach. “A laboratory assistant with 15 years' of experience has the same salary conditions as a laboratory assistant with two years of experience in the public and contractual sector,” added Bach.
Speaking to Delano's sister publication Paperjam in October 2020, BioNext director Dr Jean-Luc Dourson showed his support for the idea of a collective agreement, provided that he could find a way to finance it. “We don't have a collective agreement and I would say it's a pity because today we don't have the means to compete at the same level as the public sector. I am open to introducing one, but we need to find a way to finance it,” he said, speaking on the difficult competition for employees between the private and public sector. Dourson also raised the question of “theft of talent from the private sector to the public sector, since at the salary level, we can't keep up with the public sector.”
This story was first published in French on Paperjam. It has been translated and edited for Delano.