Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the social services sector and the role of social dialogue (Research for FORESEE project VS/2021/0054)

Duration: 05/2021 - 11/2021
Status: ongoing
Research area: Industrial relations and co-determination
Key project staff: Bernadette Allinger, Georg Adam
Funded by: Federation of European Employers

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Europe unexpectedly, especially hard and to an unprecedented extent. In order to contain the spread of infection, virtually all European countries have implemented regulations to apply ‘social distancing’. This impacted immediately on sectors with high direct face-to-face or client contacts, such as the social services. The workforce (consisting mostly of ‘essential workers’) was strongly affected by the health crisis as social services workers are – by nature of their profession – in close physical contact with multiple clients every day, and even more so in residential settings. They are working in high-risk environments of becoming infected. In the long-term care sector, first evidence shows that workers have higher infection and death rates than their other occupational groups (Uni Global Union 2021). Working conditions have become more difficult (e.g. with the need to wear protective gear) and work pressure has increased, especially when infections and quarantines of co-workers occur. Several countries have temporarily closed their borders for person movement, which has created specific problems for the cross-border workforce such as care workers. Staffing levels and user/staff ratios have been adapted out of need in the care sector which already encountered a lack of employees before the onset of the Corona pandemic. In order to alleviate the negative effects of the crisis, measures have been taken at various levels to support workers (e.g. bonus payments) or businesses (e.g. Social Care Provider Act providing compensation payments for social service providers in Germany). In many cases, social partner organisations have been involved. The envisaged study tendered by the Federation of European Social Employers sets out to identify and explore actions and measures taken by social partners and in the context of social dialogue, including but not restricted to adaptations of working conditions and recruitment and retention strategies.