8th April, 2020
It has already been reported previously, how important live-in migrant carers are for the Austrian LTC system. While a number of measures have been taken to mitigate the potential shortfall of personal carers during the Covid-19 crisis, the situation of the migrant carers themselves needs special attention.
In this context, it is important to provide some background information: The previous government of Christian Democrats and the populist FPÖ had launched an amendment of the Family Allowance that stipulated an indexation of the monthly amount (between about 115€ and 195€ according to the age of the child) for children living abroad. This regulation hit especially migrant personal carers from Slovakia and Hungary who pay taxes and social contributions in Austria, but now had to face reductions in their family allowance due to the cost-of-living adjustment. The former government had calculated related savings of up to 114 mio € per year. In 2019, the savings actually amounted to about 62 mio € only. Apart from the financial slump and the evident anger of migrant carers, the Government is also facing an infringement procedure by the EU Commission who is about to bring an action to the European Court of Justice. On 3 April, the Social Democrats, currently in opposition, brought a motion for resolution to Parliament with the aim to waive the indexation of family allowances. Against this backdrop, the current activities to safeguard the Austrian model of ‘24-hour care’, ensuring support at home to about 33,000 people in need of care, are getting an additional flavour.
On the one hand there are those carers who are currently in Austria doing their normal job, which usually consists of a bi-weekly shift before returning to their home-country. Many of them stayed with their clients and have worked for more than 4 weeks in a row already. The normal physical and mental stress related to their job is now increasing, in particular as it is unclear, how long the travel restrictions will last or whether an exceptional solution for personal carers can be found. Even in that case, however, the risk of contagion remains as it is not feasible to always slide in a quarantine period. Flavia Matei, an activist of a group of Romanian personal carers – “DREPT pentru îngrijire” – who are fighting for more fairness, said in an interview with the online-portal zackzack.at: “The situation is extremely difficult. The personal carers have been here for four weeks already, and they do not know, how much longer the will need to stay. Many women collapse emotionally and mentally. The uncertainty and the entire Corona-Situation is extremely difficult, but especially that they have passed many weeks in isolation indoors together with a sick person. They urgently need psychological support and a change, but there is no public solution.” The additional one-off premium of 500€ that have been promised by the Government, are still under discussion and could in any case only partly compensate for the additional burden. The Chamber of Commerce has now set up a portal where personal carers may call for psychological support, but it is difficult to find counsellors who could offer counseling in Bulgarian, Slovak, Polish and Hungarian languages.
On the other hand, for those carers who are currently in their home country, it is also unclear when they will be able to return to work – and to income. As almost all personal carers are registered as self-employed, they do not receive any income if they are not working. However, they have to pay social security contributions and taxes in Austria, and in many cases also fees to the brokering agencies. These costs could to a large extent be compensated by the recently established hardship fund stipulated by the Austrian government together with the social partners, but it might be difficult for many personal carers to find their way through the red tape, including language problems.
In addition, there is the small group of about 200 personal carers who were flown to Austria from Bulgaria and Romania at the beginning of April and are currently in unpaid quarantine, waiting to step in for their colleagues who would like to return home during the next weeks. While this ad-hoc action is still being widely debated in terms of financing and procedures applied it is mainly private and local initiatives as well as social media and NGOs that are contributing amazingly to tangible support and coordination. Still, it will depend on the duration of shutdowns and travel restrictions – and the resilience of personal carers – if and how long these rough-and-ready practices can be sustained.
The COVID-19 crisis will become a watershed for the Austrian model of ‘24-hour care’, but also for general policies regarding migrant workforce, their contribution to the social and economic tissue, and entitlements to social security (see above), not only in Austria, but across Europe.
- Live-in migrant carers from neighbouring Hungary, Slovak and Czech Republics, but also from Romania and Bulgaria, are currently under pressure due to the Covid-19 travel restrictions
- Being used to a bi-weekly turnover, those currently in Austria are confronted with physical and emotional stress, those currently in their home countries are left with no income during this period
- Individual psychological support, but also financial incentives and backing, including voluntary networks, are important, but may not be sufficient to sustain the system in a mid-term perspective
Suggested citation: Leichsenring K, Staflinger H, Bauer A (2020) The situation of ‘24-hour care’ From the perspective of migrant caregivers in Austria. Article in LTCcovid.org, International Long-Term Care Policy Network, CPEC-LSE. Available at https://ltccovid.org/2020/04/08/the-situation-of-24-hour-care-from-the-perspective-of-migrant-caregivers-in-austria/