“It all started with the food, otherwise I could have endured anything, any humiliation. But I wasn’t allowed to eat anything [from the household]. Last night I stole a piece of bread. I feel dizzy, I have to touch the walls when I walk [because I am already so weak].
I contacted the placement agency. They said they didn’t believe me and stopped answering the phone.”
Rodica, 24-hour carer
Conflict of interest in representation
As self-employed entrepreneurs, we are obliged to be members of the Chamber of Commerce. In theory, this institution should represent our interests, but it also represents the interests of the placement agencies.
In the professional group “Personal counselling and personal care” within the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, the leading positions are often occupied by managing directors of placement agencies.
The conflict of interest is obvious.
Melanie worked as a 24-hour carer in Austria for 6 years. After that she retired and stayed in Romania with her family. For the 6 years she worked in Austria, she now gets 38 euros pension per month on top of her low pension in Romania. She is struggling with old-age poverty.
Adriana is now 63 years old and has worked in 24-hour personal care in Austria for 10 years. During these 10 years she has paid social contributions every month. Unfortunately, because 24-hour carers earn so little, their social contributions were also very low. For the 10 years she worked, Adriana gets a pension of 105 euros per month in Austria. Adriana is also stuck in old-age poverty.
Low pensions, threat of old-age poverty
A central problem of 24-hour carers in (apparent) self-employment is the low pension and thus the threat of old-age poverty.
We are available 24 hours a day for the client and organise our work and leisure time according to the needs of the person being cared for.
Due to the nature of 24-hour care and nursing, it is impossible for the carers to care for more than one client during the rotas. So, as “entrepreneurs” we cannot grow our profit and turnover and we cannot develop our business. We have low income and no possibility to expand. Nevertheless, we pay very high social security contributions and taxes in relation to our income.
However, the pension that results after these contributions have been assessed is extremely low – because of the poor pay in this industry!
After ten or fifteen years of care work in Austria, carers receive a pension of about 100 euros per month!
This means we are being punished twice:
Firstly, because we earn extremely little and secondly, in old age, when we receive an extremely low pension. Many carers are therefore threatened by poverty in old age.
Our work as self-employed entrepreneurs (SEE) has many characteristics of dependent employment, so that it is right to speak of apparent self-employment. This apparent self-employment exacerbates our difficult situation.
The following prove the existence of apparent self-employment:
- In the vast majority of cases, 24-hour carers are bound by the instructions of their clients and agency operators regarding the place of work, working hours and behaviour at work.
- Most of the time, we only work for one client, and this on a permanent basis (many months, years).
Therefore, we are clearly limited in our personal independence in carrying out business activities.
These hidden, structural dependencies on the placement agencies and/or on assisted persons or their families are a clear indication of a dependent employment relationship.
Possible forms of employment
The Domestic Helpers and Domestic Workers Act, which has been amended in accordance with the industry, can be applied to the dependent employment relationship in 24-hour care. A collectively agreed minimum wage should be introduced nationwide. The employment of carers should be through already established non-profit social organisations that have the infrastructure needed for quality assurance.
Another form of employment could follow to the “Burgenland model”. As of October 2019, Burgenland is the only province to offer the possibility to be employed as a career for relatives in need of care by Pflegeservice Burgenland GmbH (as a provincial enterprise, 100% subsidiary of Burgenländische Krankenanstalten-GesmbH KRAGES).