Record-breaking survey reveals low pay renders Europe’s domestic and home care sector “unsustainable”

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Every day, all across Europe, millions of people rely on the dedication of Personal & Household Services (PHS) workers, who provide care or domestic support for people in their homes. PHS workers perform many diverse and essential tasks, from caring for children, the elderly, and disabled people, to the activities of daily household life such as cooking, cleaning, gardening, and more.

Working conditions for domestic and home care workers across Europe are unsustainable, according to a new Europe-wide survey. Most workers surveyed (56.9 percent) indicated they would be unable to continue in their roles until retirement age, while 59.9 percent—96 percent of whom are women—said they had considered leaving the sector in the past three years, with two-thirds (67.5 percent) citing low pay as the primary reason.

You will only crawl to retirement with burnout. It’s a shame because I like this job, but after 18 years, enough is enough. I’m on my way out.

A worker from Slovakia

Home care sector : a serious crisis of labor insufficiency

This is particularly alarming given Europe’s demographic crisis, with the proportion of the population over 65 projected to rise from one fifth to one third by 2050. The survey suggests that strengthening social dialogue and collective bargaining at the European level is necessary to improve working conditions, quality care, and domestic services.

The “PHS Employment Monitor” survey pertains to Personal & Household Services (PHS) workers, the official term used by the European Commission. It is the largest-ever survey conducted in Europe within the PHS sectors. Jointly commissioned by social partners, European trade union federations UNI Europa and EFFAT, and employer organizations EFFE and EFSI, the survey gathered responses from over 6,500 PHS workers, employers, and service users from 26 countries.

The results highlight an ongoing and serious crisis of labor shortages and turnover in a sector that accounts for an estimated 4 percent of total employment in the EU. Workers, employers, and service users all view the sector as undervalued in terms of perception, pay, and public funding.

The salary is not attractive; they do not want to work in this sector or, when they do, it is not a priority.

A French PHS employer

A need of an employer’s organization to negociate minimum standards

The results also emphasize the important role of user-employers within the PHS sectors. Most believe they would benefit from representation by an employer’s organization that could negotiate minimum standards in the sector with trade unions. Additionally, more than half (60.8 percent) of surveyed employers whose workforces are not covered by a collective bargaining agreement expressed openness to signing one. The majority of PHS users who responded to the survey indicated a preference for using a company or organization that has a collective agreement with trade unions governing the working conditions of PHS workers in their homes.

The survey indicates that workers, employers, and many service users agree that the PHS sectors lack the public and institutional recognition necessary to reflect their importance and contribution to society. This lack of recognition exacerbates the low pay and poor conditions that drive workers to seek employment elsewhere. This aligns with the demands of PHS social partners in their joint response to the European Care strategy. The lack of recognition is also closely tied to insufficient public investment in the sector.

In this context, trade unions and employers’ organizations engaged in social dialogue within the PHS sectors can play a crucial role. The survey results demonstrate significant potential for improvement through collective bargaining at all levels. It outlines additional solutions, including formalizing the sector, educational efforts to enhance the image of PHS work for workers and users, increased state funding to address the imbalance between high prices and low wages, and overall improvements in working and living conditions.

Other key results of the survey :

The majority of PHS workers reported that their jobs are mentally taxing. Among those working 40 hours or less per week, 50 percent said their job has caused mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, or burnout. This number increases to 65.8 percent for those working more than 40 hours per week.

Nearly all PHS provider organizations surveyed (96.7 percent) have implemented measures to reduce labor turnover. The most common measures include wage increases, efforts to improve workers’ mental health and well-being, access to training and career development opportunities, and additional non-wage benefits. Many pointed out that increased state support and public investment are the only viable solutions.

Migrant PHS workers, who are a vital part of the sector, experience a significantly worse work-life balance. Among migrant PHS workers, 38.2 percent said their job does not allow for a good work-life balance, compared to 27.5 percent of non-migrant workers. Additionally, a significantly higher number of migrant workers have considered leaving the profession in the past three years.

Forty percent of migrant workers faced administrative difficulties related to their migration status when trying to find PHS work. The challenges of being undocumented can be a barrier to declared work, leading to a lack of recognition, rights, and protection. A PHS cleaner from the Netherlands reported: “I am undocumented in NL and the government does not recognize my work here, so we do not have benefits like paid sick leave.”

Service users and user-employers unanimously highlighted the “disaster” that would ensue if they no longer had access to PHS workers for their homes. Some with PHS care workers in their homes expressed that they would have no choice but to move parents and other loved ones into assisted living facilities. Similarly, many women who receive PHS services at home acknowledged that, without these workers, their career opportunities would be more constrained and their quality of life diminished.

Undeclared work is a significant issue in the PHS sector. Although challenging to quantify, survey evidence indicates that a lack of regulation, collective bargaining, and government support increases the risk of undeclared work in this field. Both provider organizations and service users recognize the primary motivation behind undeclared work. According to the survey, 66.2 percent of PHS provider companies identified the ‘higher labor cost of declared work’ as a key factor driving undeclared work.

Homecare and PHS workers have an essential role in sustaining life and shaping the future of European society. Yet, our survey shows that too often they remain undervalued and lack the recognition they deserve. This can only be changed through strong social dialogue and collective bargaining at all levels to improve pay and conditions for workers across Europe. As European social partners in PHS, today we reaffirm our joint commitment towards increased recognition for the PHS workers and sectors in Europe: this study is a proof that the activities of the PHS social partners will need support and financing in the years to come.

Oliver Roethig – UNI Europa Regional Secretary

This survey’s exercise is a landmark demonstration of the commitment of all PHS social partners to increase the recognition of the sector. After all, domestic work accounts for 4 % of EU employment. It is time for it to be recognized as any other sector of the economy, governed by viable industrial relations and decent working conditions. Workers and employers agree: strengthening social dialogue and collective bargaining is the way forward and we’re on the right path.

Kristjan Bragason – EFFAT General Secretary

The PHS Employment Monitor gives body to well-known realities and challenges of our sector, which were impossible to quantify at the European level until now. It paves the way for joint work towards common and coordinated actions to ensure the sector’s sustainability for the benefit of all: workers, employers, and service beneficiaries. The report’s findings align with EFSI’s long-term commitment to pursue a structured and stronger social dialogue towards granting PHS workers and employers the support they deserve and bringing them out of the shadows.

Delphine Chilese-Lemarinier – EFSI President

As our survey reveals, the domestic and home care sector stands at a critical juncture, facing unprecedented challenges exacerbated by persistently low pay and demanding working conditions. Urgent action is needed to ensure the sustainability and vitality of this essential sector, which plays a fundamental role in supporting our communities and addressing the needs of an aging population. Robust social dialogue, encompassing both workers and household employers, is pivotal. It’s time for stakeholders across Europe to come together, engage in meaningful dialogue, and implement reforms that prioritise the well-being of workers and the quality of care provided to those who depend on it.

Aude Boisseuil – EFFE General Delegate

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