EPSU and The Federation of European Social Employers call for more Social Dialogue in the Social Services Sector: Lessons learnt from COVID-19

WEBINAR 6October Social employers

(21 October 2021) EPSU and The Federation of European Social Employers support sectoral social dialogue as a tool to improve the working conditions and wages of social services workers. 

On 6th October 2021, a webinar was held with speakers from the European Institutions, research centres, trade unions and employer organisations. The topics discussed include the difficulties encountered during the pandemic in the social services sector, initiatives undertaken by social partners and the key lessons learnt. This webinar was organised in the framework of the FORESEE project, which aims to improve social dialogue in social services in order to better address the challenges and needs in the sector. 

The opening panellists presented information on the nature of challenges in the social services sector and the preparedness of EU Member States for the COVID-19 pandemic. The vast majority of workers in the sector are female, there is also a high proportion of migrant workers, and the majority of care workers are over the age of 45. It was also shown that difficult working conditions have a damaging impact on the health of long-term care workers. This impact is more severe than the average impact of working conditions on the health of the EU’s workforce as a whole. The issues raised therefore include how to continue providing long-term care with an ageing workforce, and how to make the profession more attractive in order to improve recruitment and retention rates.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted a number of structural weaknesses in the social services sector. It not only highlighted the unpreparedness and lack of risk management in most countries, but also the lack of data available on care workers in social services. 

During the webinar, presentations were also given by social partners representatives on social partner initiatives undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic. All reported a lack of consultation and dialogue at the beginning of the emergency. The presentations showed how both employers and unions took direct action (guidance, information campaigns, sharing of experiences, exchange of practices) and political action (negotiation of collective agreements, dialogue with ministers and national authorities) which resulted the more support for the sector, increased staffing levels, one-off bonus payments, and an overall better coordination of policies regarding social services.

Some initiatives have subsequently been translated into systemic changes, contributing to more work security, gender-equality and social fairness, as well as more accessible and affordable care services. All panellists recognized the importance of social dialogue and collective bargaining to alleviate the challenges in the sector. 

EPSU reaffirmed the need for social partners to have good dialogue with the European institutions. EPSU and the social employers can provide research, evidence, and expertise on working conditions, and can contribute the EU Care Strategy, and Long-term Care Initiative. In the past months, EPSU has made several interventions on psychosocial risks and stress, as well as on musculoskeletal disorders. It is important that EPSU, as the voice of Europe’s social service workers, is heard in EU level debates. This is necessary to ensure the protection of social services workers, make the sector more attractive and thereby improve recruitment and retention rates, and to achieve adequate needs-based staffing levels and quality-driven services.