Publication – Transfer Journal

Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research

Volume 27, Number 3, August 2021

Guest editors: Mathew Johnson (WEI-Manchester University), Valeria Pulignano (KU Leuven)

Transforming Care Work within an Era of Changing Priorities of Care Policy

This thematic special issue of Transfer titled ‘Transforming care work within an era of changing priorities of care policy’ explores how policy, institutional and market-driven transformations of care regimes across Europe impact upon the quality of care services and the quality of care work. In this special issue, we bring together a range of national perspectives on changing models of care delivery and care work that spans Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the UK, complemented by a transnational analysis of EU health-care policy. Although each contribution situates the specific challenges of precariousness in a particular institutional and market context, by collating these seven perspectives we see common challenges emerging for care workers in diverse settings including residential, domiciliary and long-term care, public and private sectors, liberal and coordinated market economies, as well as southern, northern and eastern Europe with varied traditions of formal and informal familial care.

Given the significant challenges arising as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic this special issue is an important opportunity to reflect on the resilience of care systems across Europe, while also exploring alternative futures for care workers and care work. Newspaper reports of staff shortages, a lack of personal protective equipment, and the limited entitlement of many workers to welfare benefits are all clear symptoms of a sector in crisis. But while there are acute challenges arising specifically from COVID-19, the pandemic has in many ways crystallised long-term structural problems in how care services are funded, designed, and delivered. For example, demographic shifts such as an ageing population and increased international migration, set against the restructuring and retrenchment of welfare states in many countries have created significant challenges in terms of the coverage and quality of state-funded care services. Additionally, cost-driven outsourcing combined with the weakening of collective bargaining pose challenges for the stability of care services, and for the regulation of working conditions. These issues highlight the various contradictions between the different roles of the state in shaping the market for care services as a policy-maker and macroeconomic regulator, as an employer, and as a ‘client’ at the head of increasingly long and complex supply chains. This special issue will cover a series of issues dealing directly or indirectly with such contradictions.

This special issue makes two main contributions. The first is to explore the consequences of the long-term fragmentation and marketisation of care for both quality and working conditions, ranging from the transnational level through to the workplace level. The second is to empirical debates around the role of trade unions in contesting the erosion of standards in care work, while also identifying new theoretical frontiers in the debates around the nature of collective worker action and the future of organised labour in low-wage industries. The articles in this special issue point to a dynamic, if fragile, patchwork of solutions to precariousness that encompass organising, mobilising, and social campaigning, driven forward by a mixture of militancy and social partnership. Hence, while this special issue further exposes the entrenched precariousness faced by care workers as a result of long-term policy failures and myriad regulatory weaknesses and gaps, it also reveals the scope for contestation and resistance to downward pressures on care work and care workers.

Éditorial (Mathew Johnson, Valeria Pulignano) • Time for a paradigm change? Incorporating transnational processes into the analysis of the emerging European health-care system (Sabina Stan, Roland Erne) • ‘Intended’ and ‘unintended’ consequences of the privatisation of health and social care systems in Italy in light of the pandemic (Andrea Ciarini, Stefano Neri) • A matter of fragmentation? Challenges for collective bargaining and employment conditions in the Spanish long-term care sector (Núria Sánchez-Mira, Raquel Serrano Olivares, Pilar Carrasquer Oto) • Trade union struggle for workwear in Swedish elder care (Annette Thörnquist) • Established and emerging fields of workers’ struggles in the care sector: the case of Poland (Julia Kubisa, Katarzyna Rakowska) • Raising the bar? The impact of the UNISON ethical care campaign in UK domiciliary care (Mathew Johnson, Jill Rubery, Matthew Egan) • Running to stand still? Two decades of trade union activity in the Irish long-term care sector (Caroline Murphy, Michelle O’Sullivan).

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