Looking beyond mutual recognition of skills for care workers

Last week we were invited to contribute to the round table of the "COMETA – Care Operators Mobility through ECVET" project which has produced a tool for the mutual recognition and validation of transversal competences and skills in the social and care sector.

Valentina Caimi, Policy and Advocacy Adviser at Social Platform, opened the round table by noting that this initiative is in line with some of the recommendations on care Social Platform developed in 2012. For example, we recommended the European institutions to establish a common standard for qualifications and training in the care sector, as well as to develop mutual learning among member states through European projects on high-quality training and supervision systems addressed to care workers. 

Currently the care and social services sectors are facing numerous challenges, largely due to demographic and societal changes (ageing of the population, more women in employment etc.), policy developments (e.g. a shift from institutional to community-based care), increased demand for services and support due to the economic crisis, sustainability of public funding and an increased need for a qualified workforce.

Nonetheless, there is little investment in quality care services and support; in this sector jobs are generally of lower quality with little investment in adequate training, infrastructure and policy innovation, and public expenditure is reduced.

The EU must urgently develop policy actions to raise the professional status of care workers and to improve their working conditions. Particular attention should be paid to migrant care workers, who should be guaranteed equal treatment comparable to the rights of EU citizens. This should include measures to recognise the qualifications of migrant care workers obtained in third countries, and to reduce the extent to which these workers are driven towards undeclared work.

Investing in skills and adequate training of care workers is a social investment. However, alongside the launch of the Social Investment Package last year, we have seen that the trend of austerity measures targeting in particular social and health services hasn't been reversed yet. Unfortunately social and health services are still perceived as a cost, rather than an investment. Another trend is emerging; many consider private financing as a way to replace public funding, which is shrinking. But what guarantees are in place to ensure that private financing will deliver universal access to quality and affordable services for all? There is no appropriate legal framework that sets these pre-conditions.

Mathias Maucher, from the European Public Service Union – EPSU, outlined that initiatives for the mutual recognition of skills such as COMETA are useful if they are framed in a system that recognises the professional status of workers; curricula and skills passports should be recognised both by employers and workers. These initiatives should be brought forward through dialogue with employers and trade unions.

Floriana Nappini, project coordinator, reacted that the COMETA project has been important because it empowered the care workers who participated in it to realise that they have specific skills.

Adriana Cheber, a representative of Lombardia Region, stressed that the recognition of skills is a powerful tool that enables workers to be stronger in the labour market. This tool should be offered to everybody. Initiatives such as COMETA are useful also because they address workers who are more exposed to jobs of lower quality, with atypical working patterns. Within the labour market, the social sector has shown trends that contrast with the rest of the economy: it is a sector that includes people, rather than excluding; it is able to create jobs, even in times of crisis. Lombardia Region set up an investment fund (funded by Jeremie and the ESF) – 10 million € – to support the creation of micro enterprises, including non-profit organisations and social enterprises. If after five years employers have the capacity to employ workers with permanent contracts, they are exempted from repaying loans. The good news is that insolvency of social enterprises has been equal to 0,01%, compared to other sectors, which had insolvency equal to 3-4%.