As the first United Nations-designated International Day of Care and Support shines a global spotlight on the essential role care workers play, unions around the world are taking action to expand collective bargaining in the sector and improve the quality of care.
Prior to the UN officially recognizing 29 October, a broad coalition of care worker advocates, including UNI Global Union and the ITUC, commemorated the day by calling for an increased investment in care worldwide.
And care workers urgently need more support. UNI’s 2021 global survey of 3,000 workers revealed widespread staffing shortages, poverty-level wages, targeted harassment, and dangerous working conditions. More than half of care workers surveyed reported inadequate pay that did not cover basic needs; over 30 percent lacked sufficient access to personal protective equipment.
Two years later, not enough has changed. But the Day of Care is a time to highlight how care unions are fighting and winning.
“Care workers worldwide — overwhelmingly women and mostly overworked and underpaid — deserve more. As we celebrate this day, we acknowledge the battles that these unsung heroes confront daily, and we redouble our commitment to support them as they organize for a voice on the job,” said Alan Sable, Head of Care for UNI Global Union. “We are using #TogetherWeCare because transforming this sector will take care workers, united, using their collective strength, to fight for better working conditions and better care quality.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, unions in the care sector proved vital, leading to better infection control and health outcomes. Evidence from several countries, including from the UK, shows care homes with better staffing ratios, a key demand of care unions, had fewer COVID infections. Union nursing homes in the United States saw significantly fewer COVID-19 deaths and cases. This drop is attributed to better staffing and access to personal protective equipment (PPE) than their non-union counterparts.
Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union, said, “Care workers are not waiting for change, they are demanding it. They need safe jobs, acceptable staffing ratios, secure hours and family-sustaining pay now. The post-pandemic surge in care organizing shows how workers are rebuilding the care sector to benefit their families, their patients and their residents.”
UNI affiliates are making progress. In the Dominican Republic, for example, unions won enhanced training for workers, improved conditions and formalized elder care jobs. In Chile, unions secured the “Right to Rest” for private care workers, acknowledging the importance of caring for caregivers’ mental health.
US workers recently staged the country’s largest care strike, securing better wages and patient care. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Fresenius workers combat questionable employment practices. In Slovenia, care assistants for people with disabilities took historic strike action this year to win better funding and jobs.
While these campaigns – and the hundreds more like them around the globe – will transform jobs and lives, more must be done. The pressing need to invest in equitable, quality, public, and gender-transformative health and care systems cannot be overstated. With the number of those needing care expected to hit 2.3 billion by 2030, we must create 475 million quality care jobs to meet this ballooning demand.
That is why UNI is standing together with unions around the world in support of care workers on International Day of Care and every day. We know that together, we can win.