The final conference of the WICARE conference took place in Amsterdam on 18 November attended by EPSU affiliates from Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland and Slovakia along with researchers from the project from AIAS in Amsterdam and CELSI in Bratislava.
EPSU and AIAS staff explained the background to the WICARE project and how it had progressed. It was undertaken as it was seen to fit into the framework of the EPSU work plan which sees a particular focus on social services, with some work already done on pay and conditions issues such as the report on eldercare (2012) or a report on the gender pay gap in health and social services (2010).
The intention was that the project would not just provide EPSU with information to use at European level but might also be useful for affiliates to use in relation to collective bargaining, recruiting and organising members, lobbying and campaigning in the media at national level.
The main comments on the draft survey reports included the following:
- Need to understand that findings reflect what people think about their pay and conditions and this may not correspond to what trade unions think should be the case on the basis of the agreements that they negotiate;
- Important for trade unions to reflect on this and examine whether this is because employees are unaware of the provisions of collective agreements or because collective agreements may not be implemented properly at local level or because it is often difficult to know what individual workers are actually paid when their basic pay is topped up with a range of different allowances; also important to take into account that existing legislation and regulations in place, e.g. on health and safety, might not be fully complied to “in real life”;
- Recognition that arriving at a list of relevant occupations had proved particularly difficult in some countries, delaying the launching of surveys and/or making it more difficult to encourage workers to respond to the survey; one problem mentioned by several EPSU affiliates from different countries was that the list did not correspond to national categorisations of professional groups and that professions were not well recognisable due to the terminology used; one suggestion was to work with a list of 20 to 30 key professions (instead of about 130) and to have one space to insert a profession if the worker filling in the survey cannot attribute herself/himself to one of these most frequent professions or professional groups;
- Also recognition that the varied definition of social services and the overlap with certain health services in different countries should be noted in interpreting the results;
- Proposal that wage data be compared to national average earnings for each country and this should help demonstrate the continuing problem of low pay in the sector and the undervaluation of care jobs compared to other occupations and other sectors;
- In relation to this other data for Belgium revealed the extent to which technical jobs in the sector (dominated by men) had higher pay levels that other care occupations dominated by women;
- Suggestion that, where appropriate, a gender breakdown would be interesting;
- Some doubts expressed over the interpretation of information on occupational pension schemes and holiday allowances because of the varied national arrangements and proposal that this section would be left out as it was more important to work on other issues;
- Noted that the satisfaction with pay was very low across many countries and also that this finding is on the basis of a profile of respondents who have, on average long service, and so are less likely to be workers on starting pay rates; this makes the finding even more worrying and highlights the need to address this crucial aspect of the pay and working conditions with a high priority;
- And in relation to this also noting that in many cases the survey has not managed to reach the significant numbers of workers on part-time hours and/or other precarious employment conditions; the same is likely to be true for migrant workers and to those working in small organisations; and
- Where appropriate comparisons with findings from other Wage Indicator surveys and other research would be useful to indicate where the WICARE data might reveal similar or divergent trends.
Using the results
It was emphasised that there had to be some thought given to the main conclusions and how they could be used at European and national level to advance policies to improve the pay and conditions of workers in the social services and to see how issues should be raised in relation to the debates at European and national level arising from economic governance and discussions around social investment. Further consideration of these issues would take place at the EPSU Social Services Working Group on 25 February 2015.
Finalising the reports
It was suggested that AIAS would approach the Commission for an extension of the project until the end of February 2015 so that further work could be carried out. However, it became apparent after the meeting that the deadline for requests for extensions had already passed.
AIAS and EPSU staff would agree amendments to the draft reports on the basis of comments made at the conference. Affiliates were also encouraged to send in any relevant additional data that was relevant to the country reports and that would help to put some of the findings into context.
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