EPSU Standing Committee on Health and Social Services discusses  labour shortages, demonstrations in Brussels, organizing and climate change

EPSU Standing Committee on Health & Social Services, 28 February 2024

(6 March 2024) After a review of the alarming situation of trade unions in Turkey one year after the earthquake, the 60th Standing Committee discussed strategies to address staff shortages, greening healthcare sector, and its priorities for this year.

The meeting began with the call for a major European demonstration on  World Health Day on  April 7th:"Health before the market...let's change Europe". Considering that the current political moment is a unique one with the European elections approaching,  the Belgian presidency, and austerity rules still under discussion, members agreed that the demonstration is necessary. The European demonstration should stress that the healthcare sector must not be subjected to budget cuts but on the contrary, it must be supported by a new dynamic of public investment. For-profit companies have profited from this situation for far too long, and it is the time for a change. A demonstration will be followed by a dedicated conference in the European Parliament.

Gesine Lenkewitz presented Ve.rdi’s successful organizing campaigns in the Vitanas nursing home. In Germany,  thanks to actions of putting pressure on the company, substantial wage increases were obtained and the unionization rate multiplied fivefold (presentation). The importance of developing new unionization campaigns, particularly among young people, was also raised. This point was brought in particular by the Czech union OSZSP, which led a successful organizing campaign in Czech hospitals.  EPSU  coordinator of the Recruitment and Organising team Agnieszka Ghinararu recalled EPSU's unionization strategy towards central and eastern countries (presentation).

One of the main points of discussion included exchanged views on EPSU policy demands in relations to the Belgian presidency objectives on healthcare workforce in light of the High-Level Conference on the future EU Health Union" on 26 and 27 March 2024.

Members agreed among others that a European Action Plan or a strategy to address staff shortages in the health sector  should among others aim to:

  • Strengthen collective bargaining and sectoral collective agreements by among others making references to the directive on adequate minimum wages in Europe.
  • Strengthen European sectoral social dialogue in the health sector and the newly established social services sectors rather than making unnecessary cuts in their financing and operation. This hinders the work of employers and unions to come forward with solutions.
  • Require the Commission to develop a dedicated directive on psychosocial risks which takes account of unsafe staffing levels as a risk factor. Develop this at sectoral level if the Commission does not propose one.
  • Require the Commission to develop an individual directive on Musculo-skeletal disorders.
  • Increase funding for labour inspections in order to regularly assess and address staffing shortages and their impact on the workforce.
  • Support social partners in the implementation of third-party violence guidance.
  • Call on Member States to strengthen the labour and criminal  regulations to deter violence against health care workers.
  • Promote work-life balance.
  • Be gender sensitive, given that the sector is dominated by women.
  • Support access to continuous professional development.
  • Ensure high level qualification from health care workers. EPSU and its affiliates are strongly against the revision of Directive 2005/36/EC on the recognition of professional qualifications as a mean to address staff shortages.
  • Call on Member States to ensure sufficient public funding and investment to allow health and social care workers to deliver high quality care. The economic governance rules must be evaluated for their impact on health workforce issues.
  • Protect health and care as public goods and prevent their commercialisation.
  • Prevent companies that do not have collective agreements from accessing public funds.
  • Recognise the importance of an integrated approach to health and social care workers and sectors.
  •  Ensure that if profit is made it is fully reinvested to improve working conditions and care delivery

 With regards to focusing on climate change, participants exchange their views on  their  unions policies with the representatives of the European Health Observatory (presentation). One of the experiences in tackling climate changes were presented by Cyril Duch from CFDT (presentation). For instance, in France, an interprofessional agreement (currently non-binding) encourages social negotiations to take climate issues into account. Although these issues are becoming increasingly important for employees, employers still tend to take too little consideration of them.

The committee also discussed its priorities in 2024. These will focus on:

(1)        Lessons learnt from the pandemic to achieve safe (adequate, needs–based) staffing levels and adequate funding to make sector more resilience.

(2)        Protection of qualifications of health care workers and ensuring better access to Continuous Professional Development.

(3)        Occupational Health and Safety (OSH): continuing lobbying for a dedicated directive on Psychosocial Risks Factors (PSR) and Muscular Skeletal Disorders (MSDs);

(4)        Privatisation and outsourcing.

Finally, participants nominated members to the negotiation group on multisectoral guideline on third party violence.