The project

The project aims to examine the dynamics, mechanisms, and impacts of the development of collective bargaining and representation in the care sector, concentrating in particular on social and health services for elderly people (long-term care servicesLTC) and socio-education services for children aged 0-5 (childcare – ECEC). Specifically, it aims to provide a deeper understanding of the mechanisms and practices available across EU Member States to ensure an adequate extension of collective bargaining, the promotion of union and employers’ associations’ membership, and the use of social dialogue bilateral/trilateral bodies to design initiatives and policies to tackle the issues of skill and labour shortage. Overall, these research objectives are oriented to develop sector-specific recommendations on how to improve job quality in the care sector, especially significant for social partners and policy-makers at both national and EU levels to orient and root their agenda on solid empirical ground.

Extending the application of collective bargaining institutions and coverage is deemed a necessary process to enhance working conditions and job quality, as well as to strengthen the attractiveness and the retention capacity of a crucial segment of the tertiary sector, transnationally experiencing high turnover and severe labour and skill shortage. Nevertheless, the actual advancement in the quality and quantity of jobs in the sector predicted to positively influence the quality of the services offered, represents a dimension as problematic and multifaceted to grasp as crucial to measure to deliver empirically-based recommendations.

The adoption of this specific perspective to analyse the care sector stems from the acknowledgment, on the one hand, of its relevance in the national and EU agenda for both policy-makers and social partners and, on the other hand, of the limited research attention it has received in the academic debate. Previous international studies, in particular the project SOWELL (Social Dialogue in the Welfare Services. Employment relations, labour market and social actors in the care services – VS/2020/0242), carried out by this consortium, have highlighted that across advanced capitalist economies, the care sector suffers from transversal and cumulative critical issues in the sphere of employment, working conditions, and industrial relations.

As a consequence, these detrimental dynamics for job quality and employment in the paid care sector violate (rather than contributing to satisfy them) the central principles contained in the European Pillar of Social Rights relating to ensuring fair and homogeneous working conditions (Chapter II) and infringe the European Care Strategy recently launched to specifically target these services. Importantly, implications for social inequality are further exacerbated when a gender perspective is inevitably incorporated, as women perform many paid (beyond the unpaid ones) caring jobs. Paid care services traditionally represent female-dominated industries: women’s concentration worsens the wage penalties associated with these jobs, contributing to the persistent gender gap in pay.