Long awaited EU care strategy is a step in the right direction, but care workers need more!
(Brussels 07 September) The publication today of the European Care Strategy by the European Commission is a piece of good news for care workers. This long-overdue focus on workers in the care sector rightly recognises that good working conditions are vital to the resilience and attractiveness of the sector, and by extension, to the quality and accessibility of services provided. The European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) welcomes the call for action.
The recognition that long-term care services are a public good is a step in the right direction towards ensuring the right to care, as enshrined in Principle 18 of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Whilst we are pleased with the call for more public investment in the care sector and support for regional and local authorities’ efforts to invest, the strategy falls short of placing any limits on the commodification of care. Given the string of scandals regarding for profit care over the last year, the call for more regulation and quality mechanisms to monitor investment does not go far enough. All profits in the care sector should stay in the sector for the benefit of care workers and people cared for – be they children, elderly, persons with disabilities.
Jan Willem Goudriaan, General Secretary, EPSU commented: ‘I welcome the emphasis on revaluing the role of care workers, both in long-term care and early childhood education and care. Higher wages as well as better working conditions are necessary to recruit and retain a motivated workforce, and thereby tackle the growing labour shortages.’ He continued: ‘We are pleased to see a number of EPSU recommendations on good working conditions included in the strategy, for example on fair employment contracts, occupational health and safety and opportunities for continuous professional development. But the announced monitoring needs to be a serious tool to avoid more situations like the one we have witnessed with ORPEA in France - the main care provider in Europe's second biggest country’.
The strategy echoes EPSU’s longstanding call on Member States to ratify and implement ILO Convention 189 on domestic workers and ILO Convention 190 concerning violence and harassment in the world of work. The four principles announced by the Commission - availability, accessibility, affordability and quality - are important landmarks and it is positive that they follow recommendation 15 and 29 of the Future of Europe Conference (FoEC). However, we are disappointed that recommendation 51 calling for not-for-profit health and care systems, was not taken up.
As is recognised throughout the Communication and the two Council Recommendations, collective bargaining and the involvement of social partners is crucial to ensure that workers are protected in the face of rapid growth and transformation of the care sector. EPSU and the Social Employers have been involved in capacity building for national level social dialogue in the care sector for over ten years. We therefore welcome the proposal to increase support for these capacity building projects. The Communication also emphasises the need to develop EU level social dialogue in the care sector. We call on the Commission not to cause further unnecessary delay to the establishment of an EU sectoral Social Dialogue Committee for Social Services, which we applied for in June 2021 with our social partners the Social Employers.
Finally, the care strategy shines a light on the gender dimension that is so pervasive in the care sector. 90% of the low-paid care work force are women, as stated by all Commissioners during today’s press conference. As the strategy states, increasing wages could therefore contribute to reducing the overall gender pay gap, and therefore also the pension gap. The strategy also picks up on the gender issues in informal care. As we highlighted recently in our joint statement with Eurocarers, Member States’ overreliance on informal carers - the majority of whom are women – must be addressed by investing more in public services. These public services are the foundation of universal access to high-quality care.
For more contact information Pablo Sanchez, [email protected] 0032 (0) 474626633
For the ETUC reaction
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