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?