Decent wages, dignity and collective bargaining for all

Monday 7 October 2019

Over half of all care workers work 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, 8 out of 10 who are women, in addition to the physical strain, is considerable and one reason that worker turnover in some EU countries amounts to 50 per cent.

Women from Central and Eastern Europe will often come and work as care workers in countries such as Germany, France and Italy, often leaving their children and older people that need care behind. This only exacerbates the inequalities between East and West and North and South within the European Union.

Meanwhile, the corporatisation of care is advancing. Multinational companies, private agencies and local care companies have adopted a corporate logic to care provision. Companies are recruiting workers abroad to work for sub-standard wages in sub-optimal conditions, often pitting workers from different countries against one another.

Multinational companies such as Orpea and Fresenius are contributing to the race-to-the bottom.

We’re taking the opportunity of this day to shine a light on the corporatisation of the care industry and what that means for both workers and patients” said UNI Europa Regional Secretary Oliver Röthig . “We want the major players in this industry, multinationals like Fresenius and ORPEA, to guarantee that all care workers, no matter their profession or employer, are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. We want that all care workers are covered by sectoral collective agreements.

Watch Mark Bergfeld, Director of UNICARE Europe, talk about World Day for Decent Work:


At the European level, UNICARE has been leading the way in addressing the intertwined issues of dignity for workers and dignity for older people. Too many times old people are neglected when they enter long-term care, while workers are subject to sexual harassment and violence at the workplace.

UNICARE has engaged in coalition-building with AGE platform to come to a common human-rights based understanding and are currently engaged in joint lobbying efforts toward the European Commission.

Furthermore, UNICARE is part of the Advancing personal and Household Services project which investigates how to raise the standards for PHS workers across the European Union. For too long, undeclared work and miserable working conditions have prevailed. That is why we are focusing on professionalising the occupation and strengthening sectoral approaches to collective bargaining.

Long-Term Care workers, as Homecare workers and Nursing home workers will be in the focus on our daily work as UNICARE. These workers need decent working conditions through sectoral bargaining and we need to make this often invisible workforce visible. That’s also why we will launch and support together with our affiliates several organising campaigns in Europe.

In the coming year, we have received a large grant to devise union strategies to address labour turnover and staff shortages in private care. Historically, unions have been able to use labour shortages, such as we are witnessing in care, to their advantage.

Even neoclassical economists would agree that labour shortages and recruitment problems would lead to wage rises. But because so-called ‘productivity increases’ are hard to achieve in the care, employers and governments are using this to keep wages low.

UNICARE will ensure that care workers voices are heard at the EU-level, that sectoral collective bargaining in strengthened and that workers can work in dignity. It will require the trade union power to make the European Commission’s pledges regarding healthcare and long-term care a reality.

Find out about the ORPEA Solidarity Network , created to help identify workers’ common issues across Orpea, coordinate solidarity and campaign for a global framework agreement.

Find out more about the Fresenius Global Union Alliance supported by UNI, PSI and IndustriALL, formed to negotiate a global framework agreement with Fresenius to ensure that it respects fundamental rights of all employees in its operations worldwide.