The European Commission has today published the European Care Strategy. In reaction to the Strategy, Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary of UNI Europa, the European trade union federation for service sector workers, including in care, said:
“The European Care Strategy has the right diagnosis, but it falls short of prescribing the necessary treatment. It rightly points to poor working conditions as core to the lethal failures of care systems across Europe. Indeed, the quality of care that our elderly and vulnerable receive cannot be decoupled from the conditions of care workers.
“However, the strategy fails to expand workers’ tools to improve their conditions. People are being pushed away from care and getting jobs in other sectors, where the conditions are less arduous, and the pay is better. Fixing the huge labour turnover in the sector requires major changes throughout the sector that get short shrift in the EU’s document—particularly the expansion and strengthening of collective bargaining and workers’ organizing rights.
“In order to achieve safe staffing levels and the quality standard of care the public expect, jobs in the sector must be attractive. The first step is to ensure that the wages of the predominantly women and migrant workforce is sufficient to sustain a family in dignity. With the ongoing energy crisis and inflation above 9 per cent, the best way to retain the current workforce and attract new workers is to give workers a say at the workplace.”
“The strategy highlights the need for greater investment in care. However, investment for its own sake is not enough. The strategy does not put the bar high enough on what type of investment is needed.
“To deliver real improvements in quality of care, all investment must meet certain minimum conditions. In order to ensure that investment goes towards protective equipment, worker training, safe staffing levels, good infrastructure, sick pay for self-isolation or health and safety committees, a strong workers’ say is fundamental.
“The pandemic showed that wherever workers could effectively bargain collectively, they used their say to get protective equipment, training in prevention methods and establish safety protocols. Europe must learn from this lesson and empower workers in the delivery of care services through collective bargaining at the workplace and sectoral level.
“To fix care, we need to refocus on those who need it and those who deliver it. In many countries across Europe, governments outsource care work to private companies. Ensuring that workers in these companies have their say through a union is a must. It is positive that the strategy highlights the need for all public procurement in the sector to be socially responsible. To get there, all public contracts and the provision of services must only go to companies or non-profit services providers that have collective bargaining agreements with their workers.”
“The issues facing long-term care workers can only be resolved by strong social dialogue at all levels. UNI Europa is committed to tackling undeclared work, labour exploitation and low collective bargaining coverage together. The Commission’s announcement of a new Sectoral Social Dialogue for Social Services is a great example of how different organisations can cooperate, shape the future of work and create equitable and sustainable solutions for employees, service providers and users alike.”
Since before the pandemic, UNI Europa has pushed for EU-wide policies that raise standards in the care sector—for workers and receivers of care. It recently published a multi-year study, the RETAIN project, about the causes and solutions to the staffing crisis in long-term care. For further information on solutions to the worker shortage crisis in long-term care, see UNI Europa’s recent report.