Belgian presidency echoes EPSU demands on staff shortages

The European Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee for the Hospital Sector met on 24 November

The European Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee for the Hospital Sector met on 24 November

(1 December 2023) The European Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee for the Hospital Sector met on 24 November to discuss social dialogue, third-party violence, working conditions, pact for skills and the upcoming Belgian Presidency priorities in relation to staff shortages, among other issues.

EPSU and HOSPEEM are engaged in the consultation with the Belgian Presidency. The Presidency will focus on the following objectives:

-           Health workforce;

-           Unmet needs;

-           Healthy populations;

-           Preparedness governance;

-           Clinical trials;

-           Antimicrobial resistance; and

-           Security of medicine supplies.

Don’t greenwash this democratic tool

During the discussion on Commission proposed cuts to the social dialogues, members expressed their concern and disappointment. The Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee for the Hospital Sector is one of the most active sectoral social dialogue committees, delivering many agreements. These agreements include the 2010 Directive on the Prevention from Sharp Injuries in the Hospital and Healthcare Sector and the recently updated Framework of Action on Recruitment and Retention. The Commission should support greater social dialogue in the healthcare sector rather than making it more difficult. Furthermore, reducing funds in the social dialogue will make the sector less resilient. Nina Bergman, on behalf of Nordic trade union members, stated that social dialogue is a crucial democratic tool and should not be greenwashed by the Commission.

Third party violence

Tehy (Finland)’s ‘Black-eyed Day’ campaign against violence towards health workers was presented. According to the union, two in three health workers face physical violence or the threat of it at their workplaces. Violence should never be considered an occupational hazard. In Finland, force against healthcare worker is equated to violently resisting civil servants, such as the police. The most common sector for violence against healthcare workers are in emergency care and elderly care.

Essential workers during the pandemic

This was followed by a presentation of the Eurofound report on job quality of Covid-19 pandemic essential workers, delivered by Senior Research Manager Agnes Parent-Thirion. The results of the research concluded that 50% of healthcare workers have extremely strained job quality, most of these are women. The report emphasises the need to ensure EU’s capacity to deal with future crises; that staff shortages can be addressed by improving job quality; and that job quality can be improved by reducing job demands and increasing job resources. Sustainable work practices cited include fair and adequate pay; promoting employee representation for all; and public investments in working conditions to reduce the impact of the workers health.

Pact for skills in the healthcare sector

The BeWell pact for skills project in the health care sector was presented by Michele Calabro, Director, EUREGHA. The project launched in 2022 and is a large scale partnership for the health ecosystem. The aim of the project is to upskill and reskill the health workforce, while supporting the transition to a green an digital economy. There are two working groups, one focusing on skills, the other focusing on training and curricula. More info can be found here.

Participants also discussed international recruitment of healthcare workers and the ethics of it. Many unions have been, or are currently, carrying out industrial actions protesting labour shortages, working conditions and wages. There are also reports that the situation is so severe that suicide rates in England and Wales is 24% higher for nurses than the national average.