EESC holds the second of its 'going-local' meetings on the live-in care industry in the EU, revealing dire conditions of care workers employed in German households
Despite the rise in the number of foreign care workers living in German homes, the live-in care sector in the country is highly fragmented and unregulated, with underpaid carers who are denied basic working rights or social protection, and with care recipients who have no guarantees of the quality of the care they receive, a meeting held by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) revealed.
Speakers at the EESC meeting, which took place in Berlin on Wednesday, said that most care workers came to Germany from Eastern European countries such as Poland, Slovakia or Hungary, and that the conditions in which they lived and worked in German households could sometimes be so dire that they bordered on sheer exploitation and resembled modern slavery.
"The EESC's own-initiative opinion, together with a European Parliament resolution on the subject, is an important turning point in raising this phenomenon up out of the social and economic shadow in which it is hidden", said Pietro Vittorio Barbieri, representative of the EESC's Various Interests Group.
"It is high time to demand fair working conditions for Eastern European care workers who help German families with care duties. They should be adequately compensated for their work. Their work must be recognised and their working rights respected", said Sylwia Timm from DGB's "Fair Mobility" project.
"24-hour care and supervision is labour exploitation," she warned, adding that the work carried out by these workers is not covered by the Working Time Directive and similar regulations, which means they often work longer hours than is permitted by law, without breaks, rest time or days off. Their remuneration is also inadequate, with no compensation for overtime or for on-call duties.
Furthermore, social security contributions for these workers are either not paid or are paid at the lowest level. They are not entitled to healthcare or unemployment insurance and often live in poor conditions, such as in unheated rooms, or have to share the bedroom of the persons they care for.
Although the exact number of live-in care workers in the EU and their contribution to the economies of Member States is unknown, due to a lack of data, it is estimated that some 300 000 Eastern European care workers currently work in Germany. The number of care recipients in the country is put at 2.86 million.
According to studies, a carer working around-the-clock and living in the household is employed by one in 10 German homes with a family member who needs a 24 hour care.
The meeting in Berlin was the second of the Committee's 'going-local' meetings which are part of its ongoing consultation procedure on the future of this rapidly growing industry in Europe. One was already held in London in November, and more are planned for Italy, Sweden and Poland, representing some of the countries of origin and destination of live-in care workers.
The country visits are a follow-up to the EESC's own-initiative opinion on the rights of live-in care workers, adopted in September 2016 as the first policy document at European Union level dealing with the sector of live-in care work in Europe, which has long remained almost invisible to EU and Member State policy-makers.
These meetings should shine a spotlight on the precarious situation of these workers in Europe's labour markets, but also on many uncertainties faced by care recipients who often recruit carers through informal networks or the internet.
"There is a need for live-in care work to be professionalised and regulated," said the rapporteur of the EESC opinion, Adam Rogalewski, adding that the situation in the sector is currently highly fragmented with some agencies offering live-in carers under conditions that amount to social dumping.
Given that carers are among the most mobile groups of the workforce in the EU, with Eastern Europe still supplying many such workers to other EU countries, social dumping is further exacerbated by a lack of regulation relating to cross-border employment.
Mr Rogalewski said the EESC was, among other things, proposing that the existence of live-in care workers in the EU labour market be recognised by providing a common occupational definition of their profession as well as their inclusion in the long-term care system, with all the rights arising from relevant EU and Member State employment regulations.
"Clear requirements for legal employment relationships with regard to the provision of care services in households ("24-hour care") already exist. What is missing is legal certainty and this only fuels the black market, which is incredibly strong in this field, accounting for 90% of the market. Sometimes there are demands for pseudo-solutions which are not practical, and which cannot be implemented. This applies to, for example, the hiring of care workers by private households or the expansion of inpatient care, but I do not think these solutions are realistic", said Juliane Bohl from the agency Hausengel Holding AG which is a member of the German Association for Home Care and Care AC (VHBP).
"It is crucial that carers receive transparent and complete information about the specificities of the actual care situation, the conditions, remuneration and the degree of social insurance they are entitled to. This is the only way to ensure fair employment", said Prof. Dr. Arne Petermann, of the Linara Ltd company and Chairman of the Board of the VHBP.
However, only few carers are directly hired by families and most find their work through agencies. Representing the latter, Ms Bohl stressed the value of their intermediation role in supporting both care recipients and care-givers, while admitting that all agencies should be certified in order make them accountable for the quality of the intermediation services provided. The only outstanding issue is how to make this happen in Germany.
According to testimonies, the agencies seldom take responsibility for the living or working conditions of these workers, and sometimes offer sham contracts which hardly correspond to the actual situation.
In a poignant testimony heard at the meeting, a Polish live-in care worker, Barbara Janikowska, who has spent the past eight years working in German households, said her contracts never matched the job description initially provided by the agency.
"One elderly lady living alone for whom I was supposed to work as a live-in carer turned out to be a group of seven patients who required around-the-clock care, day and night", Ms Janikowska said, adding she felt humiliated and betrayed by agencies and many German families for whom she worked.
According to Ms Janikowska, agencies dictate the conditions on the live-in care labour markets. "Prospective care workers are literally cannon fodder, slaves in modern Europe, who fill the pockets of agencies and who are here to raise their profits. At any cost! I will never forget these places where I had to work from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. And where I'd get only one bowl of dry potatoes a day" she added.
The EESC opinion adopted in 2016 presented eight recommendations for Member States and 12 recommendations for EU legislators to improve the overall capacity of the sector to create quality jobs and deliver quality care. They include implementing processes for recognising qualifications and experience acquired by live-in care workers, improving the way they are posted and incorporating their rights into the European semester. A rigorous application of the Victims' Rights Directive in cases where workers are victims of exploitation, and the improvement of safeguards in the Employers' Sanctions Directive to protect labour rights of undocumented workers should also be high on the agenda. It is also necessary to collect adequate data on live-in care workers and carry out research into their working and living conditions.
The findings of the EESC country visits will be presented in a report which will be published later in 2018.