(12 September 2022) In a landmark judgement, Diana Markova (name changed), a 70-year-old care worker from Bulgaria, won a years-long court battle with the help of ver.di, a German trade union affiliated with EPSU. In 2013, Diana arrived in Germany through an employment agency to work as a carer. Contrary to her employment contract, she was expected to be on the job 24 hours, as she lived with the families she was providing care services to. However, she was only paid for the working time of 30 hours per week stipulated in the employment contract.
Standing up to the unjust working conditions of many live-in carers like her, she filed a claim in the Berlin State Labour Court for unpaid wages of 30,000 Euros. After lengthy legal proceedings because of several court appeals by the employment agency, Diana finally won the lawsuit on September 5, 2022. Sylvia Bühler, member of the ver.di Federal Executive Board, described the court decision as “a success for all our colleagues.” Not only does the judgement allow Diana to receive the wages that were rightfully hers, but it also opens a window of opportunity to bring about more structural changes in the social care system in Germany.
Increasing commercialisation of care and lack of publicly provided care arrangements has had a detrimental effect on both care-givers and care-recipients. Ver.di has been arguing for a solidarity-based insurance system that provides universal coverage for long-term care to eligible citizens. Such a system, along with robust public sector care institutions, can significantly reduce the financial burden on families in need of care as well as protect the interests of caregivers. Care is a social, and not a commercial good. As the now infamous case of ORPEA illustrates – so long as organisations are allowed to profit from care services, they will cut corners. Commercialisation of care must stop to maintain quality of care services, as well as to prevent carers like Diana from becoming victims of injustices.
The recent European Care Strategy and the Recommendation on Long-Term Care addresses the many challenges faced by care-workers such as live-in-carers. The recommendation urges member states to increase public expenditure on long-term care, improve collective bargaining coverage in the sector, enforce high standards of health and safety at workplace and, prevent exploitation of carers through regularisation & professionalisation. While the recommendation is a welcome and a much needed step for EU, it fails to address several structural issues with the care sector in the EU, such as the increasing privatisation of care services. For an overview of EPSU’s position on the Care Strategy, visit https://www.epsu.org/article/epsu-reaction-eu-care-strategy.