petite anglaise

February 17, 2005

driving a hard bargain

Filed under: Tadpole rearing — bipolarinparis @ 3:07 pm

The main reason for my erratic posting this week is that I have been busy ‘negotiating’ with the childminder. A fraught process which has left me a couple of kilos lighter (a not unwelcome but sadly temporary state of affairs) and cheated me of many hours of beauty sleep.

It all began when we learned that a new Convention Collective (collective bargaining agreement?) covering Assistantes Maternelles had been brought into force on 1st January 2005: a booklet outlining the childminder’s rights, our rights, what should be in our contract and on her payslips. It was supposed to simplify our relationship and bring employment law for childminders into line with the rest of the French workforce.

This was not intended to change how much we actually pay her for her services, as she earns far in excess of the minimum wage as it is, but it does alter, on paper, the calculations used to reach this amount. She is now to be paid over twelve equal months, for example, whereas before she got a bit extra every month and was not paid during her holidays. We also have to come up with an hourly rate for a nine hour day, as opposed to paying her a daily flat rate under the previous system. On paper this all looked fine.

Of course two people can read the same document in many different ways, and human nature being what it is, the childminder sought to inflate her salary as much as possible by interpreting the document in bizarre and illogical ways. Tata (short for tante or auntie, which is what most children call their childminder) demonstrated once again that she can be a formidably tough negotiator. Her tactics are very simple: talk at the same time as your opponent until they get flustered and lose their thread, pretend not to understand any reasoned argument, and use a smattering of meaningless phrases like “but everyone else does that” and “at the meeting last Friday they definitely said that was right”. She also brandished various bits of paper (of obscure origin) at me showing ever increasing “recommended hourly rates”, when ultimately the rate was supposed to be something we agreed upon, based on what we paid her under her old contract.

On Monday she presented me with an amended version of our contract, which she had drafted, using the highest rate I’d seen to date. I went home and did the maths. And realised that she had managed to find an hourly rate which gave her exactly the same monthly salary as before, but paid over twelve months. A whopping € 700 per annum rise, equivalent to a month’s salary.

The panic attacks started again (and I’d only just thrown off the computer-related ones). You see, it’s a very delicate situation when you have to negotiate with the person who looks after the apple of your eye, in a city where demand for childminders far outweighs supply. On the one hand, she loves Tadpole and has been looking after her for almost a year and a half. Of the childminders we interviewed she was the only one we warmed to, the only one who seemed to genuinely love the children she helping to bring up. So we can’t afford to lose her. But, if we refuse to pay what she demands, there are ten children queuing up to fill Tadpole’s shoes. On the other hand, I do not want to be held hostage by this woman, who is seriously pushing her luck and, deep down, knows it. There are times when you have to stand firm, stay calm, and try to beat her at her own game.

On Tuesday I spent hours crafting the mother of all spreadsheets to demonstrate in the simplest possible terms (because she plays dumb, even if she isn’t) that what I was proposing to pay her was fair, that she wasn’t going to lose anything, but she wouldn’t be getting a huge pay rise out of us either. I also cast some doubt on her odd interpretation of the clause stating that her daily allowance (for food and equipment) was payable for each day the child was present. She had decided that this was payable for each day the child should theoretically be present. I had to spend a great deal of time hanging out on French nanny internet forums asking questions and sifting through reponses littered with an indecent number of smilies (there should be a legal limit in my opinion) and signed with hideous animated signature gifs to do battle with her assertion that “in the meeting that was what they told us to do”. A painful process, but one which eventually bore fruit as a member of the nannies’ union replied that what we were being asked to do was both wrong and illegal. I printed it out.

I took my sheaf of papers, asked her to look over my sums and played the role of ‘concerned mummy who is worried about putting something illegal in the contract’ . She promised to call her local representative to clarify a few points.

The next morning she backed down.

I still can’t believe I’ve managed to out-barter a North African nanny. But I’m left wondering what is the point of the unions thrashing out a collective bargaining agreement if the result is that we then have to go through a new round of bargaining of our own?

9 Comments

  1. Poke me if I’m asking a stupid question, but what about creche facilities? How old is Tadpole?

    Comment by Ria — February 17, 2005 @ 4:58 pm

  2. //her odd interpretation of the clause stating that her daily allowance (for food and equipment) was payable for each day the child was present. She had decided that this was payable for each day the child should theoretically be present.//

    That sounds like one of Baldrick’s “cunning plans”! Well done for sticking to your guns.

    However, as someone on the other side of the fence (Mrs Iain is a registered childminder) I feel I should point out that there are also a lot of parents out there who have somewhat liberal interpretations of those same contracts.

    OK, rant over :wink:

    Comment by Iain — February 17, 2005 @ 5:02 pm

  3. I must say I’m really happy to hear that childminders have so much bargaining power (in France, at least). One of the things that really annoys me is that in our societies, people who do really crucial jobs (looking after kids, people in caring jobs in general) are undervalued and underpaid while others are paid millions to kick a football or dream up a new slogan. So I really sympathise with the working mum that you are but can’t help thinking that the unions are doing a good thing. Good to hear you found a middle ground with her.

    Comment by céline — February 17, 2005 @ 5:38 pm

  4. Between us and the other two couples who employ her, she earns £20k / €30k before tax! And the € 8 a day we pay her for entretien does not even cover nappies… We have to provide those.

    Do I sound bitter? Maybe I should become a childminder?

    Comment by petite — February 17, 2005 @ 6:03 pm

  5. I’m sure céline does not think you treat her badly.

    I think the point she’s making is that childminders do play a crucial role in society – she spends 9 hours a day with your child, that is quite a responsibility. I can understand why careful regulation is required but evidently it sounds like an administrative nightmare and one which the childminder has seen as a potential opportunity to squeeze a bit more out of you…

    Well, at least you’ve been able to prove your skills in assertiveness!

    Comment by witho — February 17, 2005 @ 6:31 pm

  6. Well done, Petite. It really does feel like blackmail sometimes – especially with the faceless hordes of other evil (or at least depserate!) parents queueing up behind you. Our friends in Paris struggled with an identical quandary to yours, the Mum basically working to pay a childminder (also North African and highly skilled at negotiation), so she could work, to pay the…etc.
    We found much the same here in Rennes, amplified by the fact that my ex wasn’t working full time. And Childminders HATE that! So we were twice dumped by them after agreeing terms, as they found a full-time child!

    Then we moved to the absolute middle of the sticks, where we were chased by half a dozen assistantes maternelles, offering reduced rates and sunny gardens to play in!

    The Tata we finally chose was amazing and the girls still love to see her and her family at every possible opportunity. And the bonus is that her eldest daughter (now a student in Rennes) is a fabulous and highly convenient babysitter whenever the need arises!

    Ah, la vie en Province! I do wonder what my kids’ French accent will sound like to Paisian kids mind you. Ooo-arrr springs to mind.

    Comment by Jim in Rennes — February 17, 2005 @ 7:27 pm

  7. French unions are in a class unto themselves. Glad you were able to work it out in the end.

    Did she get a little raise, at least?

    Comment by Bluegrass Mama — February 17, 2005 @ 8:17 pm

  8. A very little one. Because she gets one every July anyhow. And Christmas vouchers. And birthday flowers…

    Comment by petite — February 17, 2005 @ 9:24 pm

  9. test

    Comment by petite — February 18, 2005 @ 10:58 pm


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