Care, human rights and 23 June – a call for joint action

Wednesday, 27 May, 2020

The high levels of mortality in long-term care, particularly in care homes for older persons, are appalling. The Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatović, recently highlighted this, noting “the lack of preparedness in long-term care facilities, many of which suffer from chronic understaffing, including because sometimes their private owners have long been privileging profits over the quality of care.” She also spoke of “the lack of personal protective equipment among care staff, who were often just as much in the frontline as hospital staff…”

Mijatović questions if the elderly and residents have had access to adequate health care and draws attention to the violations of human rights. She calls on the countries of the Council of Europe to “shed light on all the deaths occurring in these institutions, without exception.” We need to draw the lessons and take the necessary action. She recognises the role of staff and points out that “in addition to personal protective equipment, staff should have access to adequate training and support, as well as remuneration that takes account of their vital role in the response to the pandemic”.

The vast majority of workers in homes, elderly care and residential facilities are women and low-paid. From the European Commission and EU member states we see the proposal for the Directive on Pay Transparency as a first step to deal with this. We want proposals to strengthen our public long-term care as part of the Recovery Plan that the Commission will present this week. This, along with national plans, should contribute to the social, ecological and economic shifts needed to create a more just society for all people. And that transformation will be based on revaluing the role of public services and workers.

For that we need joint action on many fronts, with other unions and social movements. A symbolic moment in that action can be 23 June. It is the annual Public Service Day, established by the General Assembly of the UN to celebrate the work and contributions of public service workers to our communities.

It can be a day to remember what our members have done during the pandemic – not just all the health and care workers, but also so many others in urban transport, in prisons, firefighting services, utilities, our administrations and social protection institutions. It would be a day to join together in our resistance to old recipes of austerity and to demand an end to corporate greed. A day we stand together as public service workers for the quality of the work we do and for ensuring that people can enjoy their human rights, like the right to care.