Health and Social Services meet to kick start debate for EPSU Congress

(4 April 2018, Brussels) On 14 March 2018 nearly 50 colleagues from about 20 countries met in Brussels for the spring 2018 meeting of the Standing Committee "Health and Social Services" (SC HSS).

Jan Willem Goudriaan, General Secretary of EPSU, thanked Margret Steffen, President of the SC HSS for her work, time and energy and full commitment to help shaping, coordinating and leading EPSU's sectoral work in health and social services in this function for nearly four years and before for one term as one of the Vice-Presidents of the SC HSS. All participants expressed their solidarity with the Danish trade unions threatened by a massive lockout of public sector workers. As explained by Karen Stæhr of FoA, with the negotiations over a new collective agreement stalled, trade unions had issued notice of possible strike action at the beginning of April. This was to be a targeted action involving around 10% of the public sector workforce. The employers immediately raised the stakes by saying they would impose a lockout of 90% of state workers and half of all municipal employees. The public sector trade unions started the negotiations united around a set of common demands, including salary increases targeted at low-paid workers and, in particular, women as well as changes to working hours for specific occupational groups.

The SC HSS started with a thematic seminar on the “European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR)”. A presentation and assessment of the EPSR from an ETUC and ETUI perspective by Sotiria Theodoropolou, ETUI, was followed on proposals by the expert on how the EPSR could be best used in the fields of health and social services and an exchange with the colleagues present on possible thematic priorities and/or potential EPSU proposals for (legislative and non-legislative) initiatives in the fields of health care and social services that the European Commission and/or the EU MS could take in the context of the EPSR. On 17 November 2017, the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) was proclaimed by the EC and the EU MS in Gothenburg. Since mid 2016 the ETUC had invested a lot of time and energy to influence its scope and content. On 22 and 23 February 2018, EPSU and the ETUI had organised a seminar entitled "European Pillar of Social Rights – now is the time to seize the opportunities!".

Following a presentation by Penny Clarke, Deputy General Secretary of EPSU, of the first draft EPSU Programme of Action (PoA) 2019-2024 - structured around three main themes: 1) Future of public services, 2) Future of work in public services and 3) Future of public service trade unions -, colleagues exchanged on the priorities they see for EPSU's work in the field of health and social services. Several colleagues participated in the debate. Topics mentioned by colleagues were

  • the continued need to secure sufficient numbers of well and appropriately qualified health and social care staff - not least to prevent work overload, work intensification, burnout and stress at the workplace;
  • the importance to identify the opportunities and challenges linked to an increased digitalisation and robotisation of health and social care - and related to this: which strategies and initiatives to develop to deal with the impacts on professional qualifications?; and which role for trade unions and their representatives when to be part of decisions to introduce new technologies and to (re-)organise the work and the work environment?;
  • the continued need to address and to reduce negative impacts of privatisation, marketisation and commercialisation of health and social services for their users, their quality and for the workforce delivering them;
  • the need to focus on the promotion and guarantee of healthy and safe work environments and working conditions, i.a. by preventing and reducing psycho-social risks and stress at work and of musculoskeletal disorders;
  • the importance to fight against discriminations at the workplace, to tackle violence and harassment in the strongly feminised health and social services sector and to reduce the gender pay gap (and low paid jobs in HSS in general);
  • the importance for EPSU affiliates and EPSU to support health (and social) care assistant professions and/or the health care support workforce, growing in numbers, but often facing unclear and or rapidly changing professional regulations (including on their tasks, roles and functions) and pathways, obtaining low salaries (in particular when working in community-based care or in private households), lacking access to continuing professional development (CPD) and to profile EPSU as the EU-level organisation representing this professional group(s) - and more generally the need for EPSU to better take into account the group of "home care workers" and the particular challenges they are facing; and
  • the need to defend and promote public investment and schemes of health and social services in the general interest operating with mechanisms of solidarity-based funding (taxes; social contributions).

The EPSU Executive Committee meeting on 8 and 9 May 2018 will discuss a revised PoA that takes into account comments received from the different EPSU Standing Committees, Working Groups and constituencies before affiliates will be able to submit formal amendments to the text (until 10 September 2018).

The EPSU Secretariat presented the current state of an online platform for EPSU affiliates to facilitate the exchange of information and experiences in relation to safe and effective staffing levels. Affiliates are asked to share additional documents or material of interest for trade unionists in other countries, in particular 1) the instruments they have used (such as surveys with their members on in their sector and related reports, 2) information they have produced for their members, for workplaces, for politicians and/or for media, 3) information available on major campaigns or other mobilisation actions, including strikes, to promote, achieve or defend safe and effective staffing levels (e.g. videos, interviews, presentations by trade unions/unionists) as well as 4) success stories showcasing the results and achievements stemming from trade union activities, mobilisations and struggles.

The participants took the decision not to pursue a mandate on behalf of EPSU of a Finnish colleague nominated to represent the ETUC in the CEN Technical Committee (TC) 449 "Quality of care for older people”.

British and Irish colleagues were asked to come up for the next meeting of the SC HSS with a revised proposal how EPSU and its affiliates could pro-actively and better address the challenges in relation to the regulation and recognition of the professional qualifications, tasks, functions and responsibilities of health and social care support staff, both working in institutions (hospitals; elderly care facilities) and in community-based/home care contexts.

Colleagues noted recent outcomes of the Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee for the Hospital Sector (SSDC HS) - for the year 2017 cf. the overview on the main activities and outcomes available in EN, FR, DE, ES, IT and SV) and discussed on joint priorities for EPSU affiliates and proposals (i.a. to better enforce risk assessment and the actual use of its results) or demands (such as e.g. a Framework on Action on MSD and PSRS@W) to HOSPEEM and/or the European Commission stemming from the ongoing work on the two most prominent and urgent health and safety risks in the hospital/health care sector, the prevention, management and reduction of musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) and psychosocial risks and stress at work (PSRS@W). The EPSU Secretariat made an update on the state of play of the forthcoming EPSU-HOSPEEM Conference "A sound mind in a sound body - Taking care of those who take care of us" on 23 and 24 May 2018 in Vilnius. EPSU affiliates were reminded of the importance to fill in by 22 March 2018 the joint HOSPEEM-EPSU online survey to assess the effects of Directive 2010/32/EU on the prevention from sharps injuries in the hospital and healthcare sector. Provisional results will be presented and discussed at the next meeting of the SSDC HS on 4 April 2018. EPSU on 20 December 2017 had also replied to the second phase consultation of the social partners on possible revisions of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (2004/37/EC).

Finally the participants were informed on the state of play in the Trilogue on the proposal by the European Commission for a Directive on a proportionality test before adoption of new regulation of professions (COM(2016)0822) and the related recent EPSU lobbying activities, supported by an EPSU Letter and EPSU Update issued on 28 February 2018. EPSU affiliates were asked to still lobby their own governments to try to obtain an exclusion of health (and social care) professions from the scope of the directive or at least to push their governments to support language to strengthen the general interest approach/orientation of the Directive in its main articles (and not only in the recitals). On 4 December 2017 HOSPEEM and EPSU had sent a Joint Letter prior to the EP IMCO Committee vote) and in early October EPSU had sent a letter to the IMCO Committee.