What does intra-EU care work mobility look like from the perspective of two sending countries?
January 29, 2019
Europe’s population is ageing. According to Eurostat, the share of people aged 65 or over in EU28 – 19.4% of an estimated 511.5 million in the beginning of 2017 – has increased in the last decade by 2.4 percentage points. Apart from the increasing participation of women in the labour market, economic differences between countries, diminishing state provision of care services, and the restructuring of welfare state policies, population ageing is one of the main causes of an increasing need for care work in the EU.
In many Western European countries increasing care needs are being met by care workers from Eastern European Member States. As European Union citizens, they enjoy the right to move and work in other European countries. So far, migration research has focused on the effects of care migration on mobile caregivers and their families, as well as on countries of employment. Less is known about the ways in which sending states respond to care-driven mobility.
Our new paper examines the perceived impacts of care mobility and institutional responses in two sending countries, Romania and Slovakia, and in three particular areas: healthcare, long-term care and education. We interviewed national and local level stakeholders in Romania and Slovakia, as well as care workers and adult members of their families. Looking at perceived impacts is relevant, as perceptions of the impacts of labour migration – both those of the general public and those of policy makers – have a great influence on public debates and policies intended to address the impacts of migration.
The results of our research show that stakeholders in sending countries have different perceptions of the impacts of care mobility in the areas of education, healthcare and long-term care. Although not a direct cause, care mobility is perceived to affect care-related areas in Romania and Slovakia in various ways, ranging from labour-force shortages to the quality of service provision and the well-being of care workers’ family members (many of these women leave dependent family members – both children and/or parents – in their countries of origin).
One notable difference is that, in general, national-level stakeholders in sending countries acknowledge the relevance of care work mobility to a lesser extent than do those at the local-level. National-level stakeholders are not concerned by care work per se, but by the fact that care workers are mostly women, many of whom leave their homes and families in order to work abroad. However, the positive impact of remittances on families is considered to outweigh the negative consequences of women’s absence. Local-level stakeholders, on the other hand, reveal a different picture, focusing on the relevance of care mobility for the well-being of children with parents working abroad and the challenges care workers’ families face. They highlight that the typical model for 24-hour care in private homes is characterised by particular mobility patterns. For example, a rotational system of sharing jobs, where each carer works in shifts of two (Slovakia) to four (Romania) weeks, is common (Bauer and Österle 2016).
Our interviews with national and local stakeholders also revealed an awareness of the contradictory perceived dynamics at play. While the effects of women’s labour mobility are seen by local-level stakeholders as “devastating” for children’s educational attainment in Romania and Slovakia, in Romania it is also acknowledged that remittances contribute to the improved wellbeing of all family members, including the education of children who continue to live in Romania.
The organisation of care work in private homes in receiving EU Member States, like Austria, has been described as challenging, particularly with regard to workers’ rights, by stakeholders and care-givers. The 24-hour care system is dominated by workers from other EU countries who are self-employed in Austria. Most of them find clients through intermediaries – Romanian, Slovak or Austrian employment agencies. Many care workers we interviewed reported abuses on the part of these intermediaries, including: recruitment fees that applied to the care worker as well as the person cared for or Austrian family; declaring but not following through with support for social security contributions in Austria; work contracts available only in German and not in the native language of the care worker, etc. In addition, working as a self-employed care worker in Austria translates into owning a care service business. The working relationship between the care worker and the person in need for care becomes a business relationship, where Austrian labour law does not apply. As a response to this situation, in Romania, according to a new law, as of March 2018 intermediaries are no longer allowed to impose fees on care workers in return for finding them clients abroad. Slovak authorities have been also analysing the emerging challenges for care workers in relation to employment agencies in particular and created a short information document to support people interested in working in 24-hour care in Austria.
Child benefits, to which children of care workers in Austria have access, are regarded as an incentive for engaging in care work. Recently, the topic of child benefits for children of foreign workers, who continue to reside in their respective countries of origin, has been a major source of controversy. The indexation to child benefits for those children eligible for support (whose parents are working in Austria) but who reside in countries other than Austria entered into force as of January 2019. This has been denounced by civil society organisations in Romania, Slovakia and Austria (see e.g. Caritas) and the sending countries (see Platforma DEMOS) and it can be expected that care work in Austria will become less attractive for Eastern Europeans.
Analysing care work mobility – from Romania and Slovakia towards Austria – opens up a number of topics that deserve further investigation, particularly in relation to care work, such as the rights of mobile care workers when working as ‘self-employed’, the role of intermediaries as well as the applicability of social security in Europe.
You can read the latest working paper here.
About the authors
Mădălina Rogoz is a Research Officer at ICMPD’s Research Unit with ten years of experience in conducting research in the field of migration. Her research within REMINDER focuses on the impacts of care work mobility on education and health systems in sending countries.
Martina Sekulová (PhD) is an anthropologist specialising in care work migration, gender issues, integration and human rights. Martina is a researcher at the Institute of Ethnology and Social Anthropology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences. She is a long-standing collaborator of the Institute for Public Affairs from Bratislava, Open Society Institute from Bratislava, Citizen, Democracy and Responsibility from Bratislava, Migration Policy Group from Brussels (MIPEX and European Website on Integration) and with the International Centre for Migration Policy Development from Vienna as an associate researcher.
Bauer, Gudrun, and August Österle. 2016. “Mid and Later Life Care Work Migration: Patterns of Re-Organising Informal Care Obligations in Central and Eastern Europe.” Journal of Aging Studies. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaging.2016.02.005
WKO. 2018. “Statistical Data on Self-Employed Persons in Personal Home Care in Austria 2013 – 2017.”
 Data from the Austrian Chamber of Commerce (Wirtschaftskammer Ӧsterreich – WKO) shows that at the end of 2017 there were 62,670 registered active self-employment licenses for the provision of 24-hour personal care, out of which 42.4% (26 144 licenses) were registered by Romanians, followed by Slovak caregivers with 24 585 licenses (39.2 %) (WKO, 2018).