World Day for Decent Work - 7 October 2019 - Invest in Care

There is nothing more important for working people than to know that their children and elderly relatives are being properly cared for.

Care, especially for young children and the elderly, is one of the fastest growing sectors in Europe. Care is estimated to employ some eight million people, representing about 5% of the overall workforce. The vast majority of care workers, 88.2%, are women.

People working on the frontline of care carry out a vital role, essential for the well-being of children and relatives, and to enable parents and adults with elderly relatives to work and earn a living. 

Yet care work, carried out in most cases by women, is underpaid and under-valued, and consequently suffers from staff shortages. Care jobs are often

  • low-paid
  • physically and emotionally demanding with high workloads 
  • carried out with insecure conditions, inadequate training, poor career prospects and in some extreme cases in conditions of near slavery.

While care workers are often badly paid, care is expensive for those who have to pay for it out of their own pocket. An EU wide survey in 2015 found that almost 60% of people had difficulties with the cost of childcare, and 5% had difficulties with the availability of childcare.  There is also a shortage of childcare and even more of elderly care – in Spain and Italy about 30% of need for home care (not childcare) is not met. 

People in the care sector are employed in the public and private sectors, and some are domestic workers employed directly by the family or person needing care and support.

There is not enough public investment in the system. The right to care, which we all need at some moment of our lives, should be guaranteed.  

“People who need care for children or elderly parents often find it expensive, while those doing the care work are under paid” said Esther Lynch Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). “Greater access to care is needed to improve the prospects of many women workers to stay in work but this should not be at the expense of workers in the care sector. We must improve access to care across Europe and at the same time improve the quality of care jobs.”  

According to EPSU, the European Public Service Union, what care workers need is more public investment to get more pay and better working conditions, increased staffing, better health and safety, more training and opportunities for career development.

According to UNI Europa, the European private-sector services union, over half of all care workers are in emotionally disturbing situations up to 75% of their working time, and 1 in 4 care workers say they need more training to cope well with their duties. The toll this takes on the workers, in addition to the physical strain, is considerable and one reason that worker turnover in some EU countries amounts to 50 per cent.

Increasingly multinational companies dominate the care sector. Workers in such companies like Korian, Fresenius and Orpea deserve better pay and working conditions.

That’s why Uni Europa and EPSU call for sectoral collective bargaining for all care workers. Sectoral collective bargaining is key to make sure that workers enjoy better working conditions that have a huge impact on the well-being of users and citizens.

“Governments have a role to play” added Esther Lynch ETUC Deputy General Secretary. “Policies to ensure more public and affordable quality care services must also tackle the problem of poor pay and conditions for care workers. One way to do this is by supporting collective bargaining.”

According to EFFAT, the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions, the majority of the several hundreds of thousands of domestic workers in Europe are employed in the informal economy, a condition that keeps them vulnerable to isolation, poverty, harassment, violence, and in some cases even slavery. Several EU Member States - yet still too few - have recognised the value of domestic workers’ hard and vital work by bringing them into the formal economy through state-subsidised schemes, such as service vouchers. Yet, organising and strengthening domestic workers’ trade union power is a key tool to ensure decent work in the sector.

“Live-in-care workers are particularly vulnerable but are mostly excluded from EU employment rights protection” commented Esther Lynch. “The incoming Commission should address this by introducing a legal instrument to bring all relevant EU directives into line with International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No 189 that guarantees rights for domestic workers.”