(4 April 2018) On 13th March, over 40 trade union representatives from all over Europe took part in EPSU’s Social Services Working Group which met in Brussels to discuss a number of issues that are key to defend and protect the rights, terms and conditions and dignity of workers in the sector.
Privatisation of social services
The first part of the meeting was devoted to discussing the impact of privatisation in social services: Daniel Molinuevo from Eurofound research agency presented the report “Care homes for older Europeans: Public, private and not-for-profit providers”, which analyses the trends linked to the privatisation, marketisation and commercialisation of residential care across Europe and the effects on the quality of service and the impact on workers’ pay and conditions. Teppo Kröger, from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, then introduced the NORDCARE2 Study on the conditions of care work in the Nordic countries. Both reports highlighted the increase in profits in a sector where a number of trends such as population ageing, the growth of transnational companies, heavy workloads, work intensification and digitalisation are worsening the impact of privatisation and the condition of workforce.
The Working Group discussed EPSU’s twofold strategy. This is firstly to reaffirm the importance of social services as a public good, accessible to all citizens with a well-trained, motivated and sufficiently staffed workforce and secondly to support trade unions that are responding to the challenges posed by privatisation in childcare, elderly care and other fields of social care. The meeting confirmed that, in the lead up to the EPSU Congress in 2019, work would begin on two publications looking at the privatisation, marketisation and commercialisation of social services. One would be a toolkit on trade union responses and the second would be an analysis of the negative impact on the quality of service and quality of employment.
Establishing European works councils in social care transnationals
The meeting continued with an update from Guillaume Durivaux, EPSU Policy Officer for Utilities, EWCs and Company Policy, on EPSU’s efforts to set up European works councils (EWC) in ORPEA and Korian, two of most prominent multinational companies active in elderly care across Europe. For EPSU, the establishment of the EWCs is of strategic importance to set up a real social dialogue in European companies. The objective is to begin preparatory negotiations in 2018 and, if possible, to start the work in the EWCs before the end of 2019. Three meetings have already been held in Brussels involving colleagues from Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland – two for ORPEA representatives on 4 and 5 May 2017 and on 6 February 2018, the first on Korian on 5 and 6 September 2017, with the second meeting to be held on 11 April 2018. On 8 November 2017 EPSU sent a formal request to ORPEA to put in place a Special Negotiating Body to negotiate the setting up of an EWC, on 19 December 2017 to Korian.
Working with the Federation of European Social Employers
EPSU’s Social Services Working Group also discussed the developments and EPSU’s involvement in the PESSIS+ Project, which started at the beginning of 2018, following up to the PESSIS 3 Project. The current initiative has two main aims. The first is to extend the membership of the Federation of European Social Employers so that it is more representative across the EU, with the ultimate aim of being able to formally engage in EU-level sectoral social dialogue. The second objective is for the Federation of European Social Employers, together with EPSU, to develop a work programme that could be used in a future “test phase” of EU-level social dialogue in the field of social services. The project kick-off meeting took place in Brussels on 16-17 January, preceded by a first bilateral meeting between the board of the Federation of European Social Employers and EPSU. The next step will be the organisation of three technical seminars, the first to be held in Brussels on 24 April 2018, to exchange ideas for issues to be included in the work programme. The topics to be discussed are: 1) strategies and social partner-based initiatives to address the impact of digitalisation on the social care workforce; 2) promoting job creation and the attractiveness of the sector as well as decent working conditions; and 3) promoting socially-responsible public procurement.
The Social Services Working Group also focused on two important areas of employment in social services: childcare and care for elderly persons with participants discussing ideas and options towards a possible EPSU strategy on quality and accessibility in childcare. In addition, the meeting discussed EPSU’s approach and involvement in EU-level standardisation initiatives in health and elderly care, in particular in relation to the CEN Technical Committee (TC) 449 "Quality of care for older people”.
Preparing for EPSU's Congress
Last but not least, the working group discussed its contribution to the Programme of Action which is being prepared for the EPSU congress 2019, considering the main thematic priorities in the sector for the next five-year period. Proposals made were in relation 1) to the need to continue a strong focus on the organisation of workers by EPSU members in the different fields of social services, including in non-institutional child, elderly and disability care, 2) to a strengthening of the role of social dialogue at different levels in social care and 3) to keep the focus on the improvement of terms and conditions for the workers which includes the fight for safe and effective staffing levels.