Profit companies

Why profit has no place in healthcare

The issues against which workers have been protesting for two years in the health and social services sector are not new. Lack of protective equipment, shortage of personnel, long working hours, demanding physical and mental working conditions… – these are not new problems. The pandemic, however, has brought these issues to the surface and revealed underlying long-term issues in the care sector.

The high death toll and daily images of social workers struggling in long-term care facilities and hospitals around the world shocked the public at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. In some countries, the military has even had to be called in to help feed the elderly.

Where to put the blame? It is the governments of OECD countries that have allowed the care sector to develop as a lucrative business. Rather than reinforcing care as a public good, they chose to pave the way for one of the biggest – and shameful – market failures in recent history. Western societies are aging and three decades of neoliberalism have drained public health systems of their ability to support the elderly. Leaving this void to be filled by a plethora of for-profit businesses providing services to the elderly and dependent was a doom to come. The Covid crisis revealed all of this.

Care is above all a human right. Providing quality care is a challenge, even under the best of conditions. However, when care providers look primarily to investors and see care as a business rather than a social calling, the consequences can be devastating. A recent presentation on the for-profit care sector in France is a classic example. In The gravediggers (“The Gravediggers”), investigative journalist Victor Castanet told shocking stories of workers forced to ration food and hygiene products, while the companies that employed them – including Orpea, the largest multinational in the sector care – were paying massive dividends to their shareholders.

The revelations about these companies seem endless. In the UK, the country’s largest for-profit care provider funneled profits into tax havens while reporting deficits, and using those deficits to then justify demands for higher fees and lower wages .

In addition, the French multinational Orpea mentioned above is said to have hidden assets in Luxembourg, while the French government has discovered serious abuses of public funding by the company.

For years, many unions and citizens have had to witness the growth of these groups and the enormous profits they have made thanks to the constant flow of public money. For years, many voices have reiterated their long-standing demand that care be organized on a not-for-profit basis. It’s good for society, good for taxpayers, good for people who need care and support, and good for caregivers. At the recent conference on the future of Europe, citizens strongly agreed that corporations should not be able to siphon off much-needed resources for universal care. It is time that this requirement of common sense becomes a reality.

How to build our power

Most of these for-profit care companies have shown that they are no friend of workers. For example, the Orpea group has repeatedly resisted negotiating a European Works Council (EWC) with its unions and the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU). After three years, legislation obliged the company to grant workers information and consultation rights at European level. The EWC president – ​​a German Ver.di worker – recently won a harassment case against the Orpea group. The court case was just the latest example of the company’s protracted anti-union history and opposition to the EWC chairman and added to previous sacking attempts and attacks on the works council. . In France, the company heavily favored the internal yellow union in union elections, a highly dubious practice that French unions are fighting in court.

Dozens of CGT shop stewards were fired by Orpea when it discovered they were members of the French trade union confederation. The care sector is predominantly female dominated with many migrant, minority and vulnerable workers. This multinational took advantage of this situation and pushed the workers to the limit. This has not deterred strikes and resistance, but it has made both more difficult and that is unacceptable.

How can we improve a situation that has been created by 20 years of neoliberalism? It will take coordinated work at global, European, national and local levels to bring care services back under democratic control and restrict – if not eliminate – the profit motive.

A few weeks ago was International Nursing Day, where we celebrate the work of millions of nurses in the public, not-for-profit and for-profit sectors. EPSU and Public Services International, the global union federation of public sector workers, are proud to organize these workers at all levels and wherever they work.

But we are also very clear that systems based on solidarity are necessary so that everyone has access to the care they need, regardless of their social status and wherever they are. In this scenario, everyone must contribute, and no one can be allowed to be selfish.

The care sector finds itself in the eye of a perfect storm. With the structural failure of for-profit care revealed by the pandemic and the The gravediggers exposed, there is now a momentum that needs to be maintained and built upon. The French government has carried out investigations that have revealed serious flaws in the finances and conduct of the Orpea group, while other countries continue to investigate. The European Union is preparing a European healthcare strategy, the first proposal of which should be presented in the autumn. The stage is set for decision makers to bring about real societal change.

EPSU and many others have come to the same conclusion time and time again – providing healthcare and social services on a for-profit basis contradicts the goal of a more equal society. We now look forward to the work of the European Parliament’s special committee on Covid-19 to explore this across the EU.

Changing the care sector is changing society. PSI recently launched its Care Manifesto, in which it calls for the social organization of care. The goal of an egalitarian and caring society is derailed without it. To be cared for is a human right and it is linked to the quality of the work of carers. Change will only come with a human approach that values ​​both the objectives of quality of care and quality of work. This must be the compass of the international trade union movement.