Anyone who deals with the home care sector knows there is an acute shortage of staff. Getting consistent care from the same people at times that suit the client are next to impossible even outside the holiday season. Getting care at all is the issue for some.
And that’s a major problem as demographics and pressure to free up hospital and nursing home beds for people who really need them mean the demand for such care is going to grow significantly over the coming years.
Home and Community Care Ireland, the trade body for the sector, insisted on Monday that there was an “acute labour shortage” of homecare workers in the State. The major providers seem to be actively recruiting permanently. The announcement of up to 1,000 jobs at single providers in the sector has been a feature in recent years.
But a campaign to persuade the Government to allow non-EU workers permits to work as home carers in Ireland has failed — even though nursing homes have access to the same permits.
The bigger problem for the sector is that the terms of the refusal are a damning indictment of the employers.
The interdepartmental group on economic migration that determines which sectors can tap non-EU workers — and is chaired by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s Department of Business, Enterprise and Investment — concluded there was no labour shortage in the sector. It found instead that the issue is with the terms and conditions the homecare groups are offering.
“Evidence suggested that the contracts of employment on offer and employment terms and conditions, for example, failure to guarantee hours of work and the lack of travel and subsistence payments, are factors in the recruitment challenges faced by the sector rather than a demonstrable labour market shortage,” said Minister of State Damien English in response to a parliamentary question.
“Essentially, carers are being treated as gig workers, rostered to be in a series of homes over a day but not paid to get from one client to another sometimes a significant distance away and incurring significant fuel bills along the way, and with little chance to plan their working week.
“These are the people to whom we entrust the care of our elderly and infirm. In general they do an exceptional job in often trying circumstances. The time has come to value that work a little higher — or run the risk that there will be no one to do it.”