(12 May 2021) EPSU statement on International Nurses Day On the 12th May, we celebrate International Nurses Day. COVID-19 has shown more than ever the crucial role of nurses in the health and social sector and in our societies. Without them, we would not have been able to tackle the three waves of the pandemic. Now more than ever, EU institutions and national governments need to recognise the crucial work of nurses and ensure better working conditions. This includes ensuring workplace health and safety and managing psychosocial risks and work-related stress. Intensification of work during the pandemic, caused by inadequate staffing levels and ongoing underinvestment, increased the stress on nurses and affected their mental well-being, resulting in sick leave and burnout for many. In several countries, we observed that many nurses now consider leaving the occupation due to the unbearably stressful working conditions. This will only exacerbate the shortages of workers in the healthcare sector in most EU countries. The health and well-being of nurses is fundamental for providing care for the European population.
To this end, EPSU is calling the EU to:
- Develop a dedicated Directive in the area of Psychosocial Risks and Stress at work;
- Include actions on addressing workplace stress in the next EU OSHA Strategy (2021-2027);
- Invest more of the EU4Health budget into improving the working conditions of nurses, in relation to reinforcing the healthcare workforce. The money spent through the project must provide economic support to Members States to increase staffing levels and organise necessary trainings. The Commission should encourage Member States to apply for funding for these purposes; and
- Ensure that the Recovery and Resilience Facility funds (Next Generation EU), are attached to conditionalities. Members States applying for the funding through their National Recovery and Resilience Plans should only get approval if a significant part of the funding is to be used directly for improving public healthcare, including for improving working conditions and staffing levels – the financial resources must reach the nursing staff.
EPSU calls on national governments and employers:
- To address staff shortages, which have intensified work-loads and resulted in high levels of stress;
- To better enforce OSH legislation. Governments needs to enforce the obligations of the employers to ensure the safety and health of workers in every aspect related to the work (Framework Directive on OSH (89/391/EEC); The pandemic has shown that preparedness is very much a health and safety issue. Risk assessments must include how well employers are prepared for the future.
- To invest more in mental health public services to ensure all nurses have full and free access to them.
On the global level, there is a need to update and improve the 44 year old ILO Nursing Personnel Conventions C149 and Recommendation R157 to ensure that nurses are provided with quality working conditions, including protection from OSH risks and access to training. The Convention should address needs relating to staffing levels to limit the pressure on public health and on workers.
Finally, we call for vaccines to be made available to all nurses and health and care workers, so that they can continue to save lives. Over 17,000 health workers have died from COVID-19, yet the European Commission and many EU governments continue to block the waiver of intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines which would enable countries to produce affordable versions of patented COVID vaccines. While US President Biden announced on 5 May that the US Government will no longer oppose the waiver, EU governments are still putting the interests of pharmaceutical companies above global health. This Nurses Day, we reiterate that no one is safe until everyone has access to safe and effective treatments and vaccines, and call on national leaders and EU institutions to support the waiver.
 ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation) resolution on actions for combatting stress and eliminating psychosocial risks in the workplace: putting an EU Directive on the agenda: www.etuc.org/en/document/etuc-resolution-actions-combatting-stress-and-eliminating-psychosocial-risks-workplace