EPSU delegation meets Commissioner Schmit to discuss ORPEA, European Care Strategy, staff shortages and more

EPSU delegation meets Commissioner Schmit, 8 July 2022
EPSU delegation meets Commissioner Schmit, 8 July 2022

(8 July 2022) The scandals of the multinational care company ORPEA have rattled the world of elderly care homes and other care services in France and beyond. The scandals led to a discussion about the prioritisation of such companies on profits, and their mistreatment of residents and workers. The scandals first came to the public eye following the revelations in the book Les Fossoyeurs (The Gravediggers) of the journalist Victor Castanet. To discuss these problems, an EPSU delegation of ORPEA workers and unionists met European Commissioner Schmit, responsible for social affairs and the European Care Strategy.

The delegation raised the problems for workers in ORPEA, lack of social dialogue, harassment of works’ council representatives and trade unionists, staff shortages and the future of the company. This was linked with the forthcoming European Care Strategy. EPSU welcomed that the Commissioner has underlined that companies should not make money on social services. In the meeting, Commissioner Schmit clearly underlined that his main aim for the care strategy was to promote the well-being of citizens; profit-making should not be allowed to jeopardize this aim.

In the meeting, delegates highlighted the fact that these problems are not limited to multinational elderly care companies. Many similar problems have recently come to light in private childcare facilities. Whilst elderly and childcare are different elements of the sector, they should be based on common principles and respect for social rights.

We expect the European Care Strategy to address staff shortages, low pay and precarious conditions across the sector, as well as the lack of collective agreements in some countries. As the Commissioner said in the meeting, the care sector has to be revalued in terms of jobs, in terms of pay, labour rights, collective bargaining and social dialogue.

Public funding is crucial. We need a care strategy that restricts the commercialisation of care, as EPSU and ETUC have made clear, and that is centred around human rights. It is also important to integrate care into national social protection systems and public health systems, which are for efficiency and equity reasons best placed to deliver. This was also a recommendation of the social protection committee and more recently the European Parliament in their report on the European Care Strategy.

The EPSU delegation included Francoise Geng, EPSU Vice-President, leading the work on the scandals in Orpea in the French union CGT-Sante; Fanny Willeput, a care worker in one of the ORPEA facilities in Belgium and member of the Belgian union BBTK SETca; Oliver Remy from the Belgian union ACV puls; EPSU Deputy General Secretary Penny Clarke and EPSU lead for social services, Tuscany Bell. Nicole Meyer, German trade unionist of Verdi and chair of the EWC, was unable to join at the last moment, but members of the EPSU delegation conveyed her message. The delegation met 8 July 2022, Brussels.

Background

EPSU view on the book Les Fossoyeurs by Victor Castanet

The research group Investigate Europe revealed other scandals – abuse of public funds, hidden companies in Luxembourg for tax purposes, lavish commissions

Investigate Europe further revealed the use of irregular employment contracts at its nursing homes in France. Workers have to sign fixed-term contracts that indicate that they are replacing employees with permanent contracts. In many cases, however, these permanent employees do not seem to exist. For the full article.

EPSU and unions denounced an agreement the company made with minority unions   It has similarities with how the company dealt with its French unions which have started a legal case to challenge manipulated workers’ representatives elections  and most recently CGT-Sante started a new court case amongst others because of discrimination against the trade unions.

Strikes have taken place in the company for its refusal to engage in collective bargaining in Germany. The company dismissed the trade unionists. Unions in ORPEA expressed their solidarity with the German workers.  Recent strikes focused on management’s refusal to pay a bonus despite profits in the companyto. https://www.epsu.org/article/strike-orpea-france-scandals-continue-epsu-expresses-solidarity-workers The company’s record of being anti-union and against workers’ consultation is further underlined by its cases against a works’ council member in Germany. The unionist won the case, got compensation but the company continues it harassments. The unionist is now the chair of the workers’ side in the European Works Council. 

EPSU and affiliated unions do organise workers in private companies including in ORPEA. This company could not reach an EWC and had to set up an EWC based on the requirements set out in the legislation on European Works Council. Recently a new EWC agreement with the French care company Korian was signed.

Positions of EPSU on social services (elderly care, early childhood education and care…) and the positions with the European employers in social services.