In its work programme, the Portuguese Presidency of the Council outlined an ambitious social agenda for the first half of 2021, aiming to tackle the social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the organisation of the Social Summit earlier this month in Porto, Member States reinforced their commitment to the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights.
It’s important that one key sector of the EU economy is not left out of this implementation: the Personal and Household Services (PHS) sector. PHS covers a broad range of care and non-care activities that contribute to the wellbeing at home of European families and citizens. It ranges from child care to assistance to the elderly, dependent or disabled, from cleaning to gardening. Most of us have actually used some of these services at some point in our lives.
The PHS sector employs roughly eight million people in Europe, representing four percent of Europe’s workforce. And that only counts workers hired legally. It is estimated that about as many workers provide Personal and Household Services but are undeclared, mainly because of a lack of legal frameworks at the Member State level.
“The PHS sector employs roughly eight million people in Europe, representing four percent of Europe’s workforce. And that only counts workers hired legally”
The particular nature of these jobs, being carried out at people’s homes and often in close proximity, made workers in the sector particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic, with many of them being simply unable to work. In fact, in May 2020, the International Labour Organisation estimates that 74 percent of domestic workers were significantly impacted by the pandemic worldwide, through a decrease in income, loss of jobs and to social security.
Adding the consequences of the pandemic to an often-precarious employment situation, we have reached a point where workers in the sector are facing increasing social and financial difficulties and are now very much at risk of being left behind in the COVID-19 recovery efforts. By supporting an EU-wide structuration of the sector, Member States and the European Commission would ensure these workers are valued and their professions recognised, while devising a legal framework for a resilient social Europe.
Why recognition matters
Despite its major contribution to our society, the PHS sector is currently neither sufficiently recognised nor supported by public authorities across Europe. In many European countries, workers of the sector operate in a legal grey zone, depriving them of social and health rights that all other declared worker benefits from (health coverage, retirement pensions, sick leave, life-long training).
One of the main objectives of the European Pillar of Social Rights is to guarantee fair and decent working and employment conditions to all workers. As part of its implementation, the European Commission and the Portuguese Presidency should call on EU Member States to adopt policy measures as well as regulatory and legislative frameworks that encourage the use of formal work in the PHS sector. In countries that have adopted direct (France, Italy) or indirect (Belgium, Sweden) employment models for the sector, the share of undeclared work has dramatically decreased, with PHS workers enjoying the same social rights and protection as any other workers.
These models should be seen as blueprints for other European countries, and they will help tackle undeclared work in the sector; promoting the emergence of much-needed health and social rights for domestic workers across the EU, including the rights to life-long training called for in the European Pillar of Social Rights; and help ensure that the economic and health crisis does not turn into a social crisis for workers in the sector.
Structuration of the PHS sector and achieving the European Pillar of Social Rights
Many of the services provided by workers from the PHS sector will eventually contribute to the achievement of the objectives of the European Pillar of Social Rights. The access to quality, consistent and diversified childcare solutions enables parents to pursue their professional activity when they have children, while guaranteeing children the access to care. Similarly, being able to rely on qualified care workers to care for Europe’s elderly or disabled population can provide respite for informal carers and enforce the right for people with disability to live in dignity, and the right for everyone to have access to long-term care at home.
“Considering these trends and the growing need for skilled workers in this sector in the coming years, it is estimated that a legally structured PHS sector could create as many as one million non-relocatable, quality jobs in Europe”
Last but not least, the PHS sector has developed rapidly to meet the growing demand for care services and a better work-life balance, echoing the demographic changes our continent is currently facing. Considering these trends and the growing need for skilled workers in this sector in the coming years, it is estimated that a legally structured PHS sector could create as many as one million non-relocatable, quality jobs in Europe. As we only start to see the medium-term impact of COVID-19 on employment in Europe, this is significant enough to be underlined.
Member States gave an impetus towards the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights during the Social Summit in Porto. Including the PHS sector as a key element of these discussions going forward appears to be, more than ever, a necessity.
Brought to you by the European Federation for Family Employment & Home Care – EFFE
This article reflects the views of the author and not the views of The Parliament Magazine or of the Dods Group