Report from Working Group Social Services

©CanStockPhoto obencem Giving helping hands for elderly people

(Brussels, 20 October 2017) There is no quality social care without investing in workers: a strong relaunch of public and innovative social care and the need to invest into good pay and working conditions, a safe and healthy working environment and the qualification of the workers are key messages arising from the EPSU working group on social services. Trade unions organising in the sector of long-term care for older people and for disabled persons, in childcare services and in social care and social work more generally and representing the front-line workers are working together to turn the page in Europe after years of cuts and austerity policies and that we invest in the quality of the services and good terms and conditions for the workforce in social services.

On 20 September 2017, more 50 colleagues from 18 countries and 33 EPSU affiliates representing trade unions in health and social services and in local and regional government met in Brussels to discuss and agree on EPSU activities for the next months and how to relaunch an ambitious European worker’s agenda in social services and personal care.

The meeting in particular dealt with the following four topics:

  • Trade union activities and actions to address the challenges/impacts of the provision of social services by private (for-profit and not-for-profit) providers: The revised version of the EPSU Discussion Paper “Fighting for workers in for-profit care and social services” on the privatisation trends existing in Europe and the different strategies and actions put in place by trade unions to defend workers rights and promote quality and accessible public services was shared. Presentations from CGIL FP (Italy), Fagforbundet (Norway) - you can have a look at their presentation "Fighting for workers in for-profit care and social services" - and Vida (Austria) looked into the privatisation and marketisation trends in their countries and illustrated the responses of trade unions to secure and improve pay and working conditions and collective and individual labour rights. The colleagues confirmed their interest to foster a mutual exchange of information and experiences and supported the idea for EPSU to develop a toolkit on trade unions responses to the impacts of privatisation, marketisation and commercialisation of social services on the workers. It will portray the trade union strategies, best practices and challenges. Complementary, the monitoring and reflection on ongoing trends in the European and national “social care markets” and what they mean for the quality of work will be pursued. This work should flow into a “Black Book on privatisation, marketisation and commercialisation of social services” to support out policy work and to counter the narrative of higher efficiency and cost reduction of social service delivery by private commercial providers.
  • New forms/models of care and their impact on the (systems of) provision of services, their quality and the workforce: This included a closer look into models and policies supportive of the transition from institutional to community-based care, based on and in reaction to a presentation by Sabrina Ferraina, EASPD, and Vice Chair of the European Expert Group on the Transition from Institutional to Community-based Care. In 2012 it adopted "Common European Guidelines on the Transition from Institutional to Community Based Care" (as well as a "Toolkit", both available in 12 European languages). The working group exchanged on the developments in the sector and the related challenges – in particular to trade unions and trade union work – linked to a push towards home care for persons with disabilities or frail elderly people, including as regards the professional qualifications, skills and knowledge needed, work organisation, working conditions and staffing levels. The needs and rights of users for high quality and dignified care should not be played against the interests, rights and concerns of the workers in social care. Colleagues also looked into the impact of EU funding policies such as the European Social Fund (ESF) that support the policy objectives of “integrated care” and “de-institutionalisation of services” and how national trade unions could make their voices and concerns heard to influence their use.
  • EU-level standardisation/technical standards in health and elderly care services: The Working Group assessed recent developments in relation to the EU-level standardisation in the field of health and elderly care services – concerning the CEN Technical Committee (TC) 449 “Quality of care for elderly people in ordinary or residential care facilities” and the CEN Technical Committee (TC) 450 “Patient involvement in person-centred care” – and EPSU’s involvement. Colleagues supported the assessment that EU-level standardisation in relation to workforce issues or on modes of the provision of healthcare or elderly care services carried out by national private profit seeking standardisation agencies under the roof of CEN is not useful and should not be supported. Where such initiatives have been started and EPSU is being involved as observer (on behalf of the ETUC), such as in the CEN TC 449 “Quality of care for elderly people in ordinary or residential care facilities”, the involvement should be carried on for the duration of this technical committee. In the last about one and a half to two years it has become clear that the CEN-led or CEN-supported initiatives raise more general questions about the type of regulatory instruments (legislation; collective agreement; private standards) we prefer/aim at for the organisation, regulation, provision and financing of social services. In the last months, EPSU together with other key stakeholders at EU-level (such as CPME, CDE, HOPE, ESIP and AIM) addressed two letters to the European Standardisation Organisation (CEN) - see the Joint Letter of 3 March 2017 and the Joint Letter of 6 September 2017 (and an earlier Joint Letter of 6 July 2016 involving the ETUC, but not yet ESIP and AIM) - with a very critical assessment of efforts to broader the scope for EU-level standardisation in health and social services (currently dealt with in the context of the CEN Health Services Focus Group). In a number of countries standards issued by private organisations are already used for the accreditation or certification of social services, including for residential care or sheltered housing facilities.
  • Promotion of social dialogue in the field of social services: The final version of the “Common Declaration” agreed upon on 21 March 2017 by employers’ organisations from Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Spain involved in the PESSIS III Project had become available in five languages (EN - FR - DE - CZ - IT). It can be juxtaposed to the EPSU Working Paper "Common guidelines for EPSU members in view of the development of social dialogue at EU-level with relevant and representative employers‘ organisation" (available in EN, FR and DE) agreed upon on 22 September 2016 and adopted by EPSU's Executive Committee on 8 November 2016). The PESSIS III Project will hold its final conference on 20 October 2017 in Brussels that will coincide with the launch of the “Federation of European Social Employers” (FESE). The exchange with the colleagues focused on key points EPSU’s input into the final conference should recall. Colleagues in particular highlighted 1) that social dialogue at European level has to be complementary to the structures and dialogue at national level and within the EU MS on the different levels and 2) should not substitute it or allow employers not to live up to commitments given there. Colleagues also agreed that it is of paramount importance that EU-level social dialogue would focus on the exchange of good models of practice, the elaboration of joint documents, the work in joint projects with EU-level employers’ organisations and the negotiation and signing of framework or autonomous agreements. These are constitutive elements to which joint policy work and lobbying towards EU institutions would add. Employers’ organisations – covering both local and regional authorities as well as private (not-for-profit) employers’ organisations – and trade unions also would need to be representative that can monitor and ensure the follow up of the initiatives taken at EU-level and the implementation of the agreements reached, building on solid national social dialogue structures.
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