(Brussels, 2 February 2022) In a damning exposé, investigative journalist Victor Castanet uncovered the dark realities of Europe’s ‘grey economy’ and the private company at its heart – Orpea.
The revelations come in Castanet’s book ‘Les fossoyeurs’ (The Gravediggers) that details the practices of Orpea, the French multinational that is the leading provider of elder care in Europe, and how it makes profits on the backs its workers and residents.
Following the publication Orpea’s share price dropped sharply, as did those of other care companies. Management’s response that they did nothing wrong impressed neither markets nor the French government, who are investigating the company which benefits from public finance. The company’s board dismissed CEO Yves Le Masne and appointed a new one on Sunday, 30 January 2022. Inspections of Orpea’s care homes will take place in Belgium, where two homes have been placed on a blacklist. Other countries may follow.
EPSU affiliates represent thousands of Orpea employees across Europe who strive to deliver quality care for the elderly and others that receive services from the company. Trade unionists have reported stories similar to those told in the book but they have been dismissed by Orpea, who, as usual, blame the messenger rather than take responsibility.
EPSU and its members have faced repeated problems with Orpea’s industrial relations culture.
- EPSU and its affiliates have campaigned to protect worker representatives who have been critical of Orpea management and then dismissed by the company. Local management have threatened to use private detectives to follow trade union representatives. Rather than listen and negotiate, the company took legal action but lost.
- The company repeatedly resisted negotiating a European works council (EWC) with its unions and EPSU. After three years, legislation forced the company to grant workers information and consultation rights at European level. The inability to negotiate an EWC reflects the attitude of management. The company continues to pursue legal action against the German workers’ chair of the EWC – action which must be dropped.
- In France, the largest union in the company is not completely independent and it is a matter of concern that Orpea prefers to deal with an in-house trade union rather than with the recognised unions in the sector.
- The consortium of journalists of Investigate Europe report that the company has been using irregular employment contracts at its nursing homes in France in an attempt to cut costs at the expense of workers.
EPSU’s General Secretary Jan Willem Goudriaan said, “The experience of many workers and their unions shows that there is something wrong with management culture in the company. Obsessed with profits and growth, they have ignored the need to build a culture of social dialogue, information and consultation. This must change. The French government should investigate any abuse of public funds and irregular practices. As the company is a European and increasingly a global player, such an investigation should extend beyond France. Those receiving care and workers providing it should not be the victims of exploitation. And they should not be facing the negative consequences of poor management decisions.”
There are a number of immediate steps that can be taken to address the situation. They should focus not only on investigating the serious evidence presented in the book. The company needs to restore the confidence of workers and their unions in its management.
- Orpea and its subsidiaries must drop all cases against worker representatives who have been critical of the company, such as in Germany.
- To restore trust, the company should present a plan to the European works council and national trade unions on how to improve information and consultation, social dialogue and its industrial relations culture.
- The French and other governments need to urgently investigate possible abuse of public funds.
- The company adheres to several European and global standards, such as the UN’s Global Compact. Orpea should be suspended from these monitoring mechanisms until changes have been made to ensure that human and trade union rights are respected.
The pandemic has dramatically exposed the elder care sector’s deficiencies and the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner has indicated that the human rights of the elderly have been violated. Care is a human right, one that is enshrined in the European Pillar of Social Rights and making profits from the elderly and the workers that provide their care should be out of the question. The case revealed the lack of adequate inspections in France, reflecting a laissez faire attitude towards the private sector.
EPSU’s Goudriaan continues: “We expect the European Care Strategy that is to be presented by the European Commission at the end of the year to reflect that care is a right; that workers delivering care deserve good pay and conditions; that there are enough workers to deliver quality care; and that privatisation and profit-making should have no place in the sector. Patients and the elderly are not commodities.”
EPSU will bring the unions together to discuss the situation in Orpea.
For press, please contact Chloe Kenny ([email protected], +32 (0) 494 89 48 80)
Read EPSU’s comment on the book and previous conflicts in Orpea here.
Read Investigate Europe research on abuse of short-term contracts in Orpea here.
Read Caring for Profit of the European Network of Corporate Observatories’ research on Orpea and other companies here.
Learn more about the global campaign on care as a public service here.
The European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) brings together trade unions from across Europe and represents over 8 million public service workers. It is the most representative European trade union organisation in the social services sector. EPSU works hard to deliver better working conditions, improved health and safety and enhanced rights for its members. By sitting down with employers at European level, we negotiate best practice agreements that improve the working lives of public service workers and ensure quality services for citizens.