European Care Strategy and the way forward: collective bargaining, more staff and no commercialisation

EPSU banner care strategy

(14 December 2022) Trade unions, employers and civil society agree: without workers to deliver care in all its forms, quality care can not be delivered. This view was shared by several stakeholders at a hearing organised by the European Economic and Social Committee.

The hearing brought together representatives from both EU institutions and civil society to discuss the challenges facing the European Care Strategy, published by the European Commission in September. The EESC is currently preparing an opinion on the Strategy, due for adoption in January 2023.

The strategy recognises that care is a public good and a human right, not a luxury. At the hearing, EPSU stressed that a qualified work force is key to ensuring this right and that it is urgent to retain and recruit more people to deal with a growing need for care. Many workers are leaving the sector and, despite the applause during the early days of the pandemic, feel a lack of recognition for their work. Many have low pay; are not covered by a collective agreement; miss out on good pensions; experience third party violence; and face significantly higher health and safety risks than average.

The way forward is to value care. More time and resources must be allocated and a publicly funded infrastructure for care with well-paid care workers is needed. Expanding public early childhood education and care; elderly care; adult social care; and mental care as part of social protection will benefit our societies. This, however, raises the issues of sustainable public budgets, fair taxation and redistribution of wealth – issues which are not tackled in the European Care Strategy.

For EPSU, a weak point of the Strategy is that the Commission continues to see a role for private care operators. Commercialisation and extraction of wealth from care and public funds is unacceptable. Orpea, the scandal-ridden French multinational care company that may need to be rescued by public finance institutions, offers a key example of the consequences of commodifying care.

EPSU used the hearing to highlight collective bargaining as an essential way to improve pay and conditions. An organised workforce is the best way to improve health and safety, prevent abuse in the workplace, and create an attractive working environment. Social dialogue is also key in a strong care system and EPSU raised the need to establish a European sectoral social dialogue committee on social services.

The event took place on Wednesday, 7 December in Brussels. Other speakers came from the European Parliament, Eurofound and Hospeem amongst others.

Learn more about EPSU’s work on social care here.

Find more information on the EESC hearing here.

Read EPSU’s recent article outlining our concerns that the Recommendation on Long Term Care is being watered down here.

Find a range of EESC opinions related to care here.