Updates on Migrant Live-in Care in Austria at the time of COVID-19: A Glimpse into the Media[1]

Michael Leiblfinger and Veronika Prieler[2]

10th April 2020

In Austria, the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus brought the so called 24-hour-care model back on the political agenda and into widespread media coverage. With currently nearly 62,000 care workers, 95 percent women and almost all of them migrant live-ins for about 33,000 older people in need of care[3], this highly gendered transnational care model has become an important pillar of the Austrian elder care system – a pillar that is strongly affected by recent developments, especially travel restrictions and closed borders. Both care workers from Romania and Slovakia, who account for about 80 percent of all live-ins in Austria, face difficulties: While Romanian carers are unable to cross through Hungary, their Slovakian colleagues are potentially faced with tests and two-week quarantine when returning home from their shifts.

Aware of potential problems, Austria’s federal government announced as early as mid-March that they “are working hard to find a solution for 24h carers”[4] (BMSGPK 2020). Apart from the “Planning for expected shortages in migrant and family care in Austria” as previously reported on this website, the government tried to negotiate with Slovakia and Hungary for free passage through “care corridors” (ORF 2020a) and announced to repurpose in-patient rehabilitation and therapy facilities to provide not only beds, but also care for those whose home-based care is temporarily unavailable. Furthermore, they allocated 100 million Euros in an effort to combat current issues arising in long term elder care, out of which they adopted a tax-free bonus of 500 Euros for live-ins who extended their shifts for four weeks, which doubles or even triples the regular shifts of typically between two and four weeks (Leichsenring et al. 2020).

The media also picked up the issue of live-in care, reporting, for example, that “the model of 24-hour-care threatens to break down” (Der Standard 2020) or on relatives’ desperate struggles to organize a carer for their dependent parents. The main focus of this reporting is on (proposed) measures to maintain the live-in care model. One realized measure received particular attention including a live connection to a reporter at the airport on national television in a special broadcast of a federal government news conference (ORF 2020b): On April 1st, 231 care workers from Romania and Bulgaria were flown in to work in the province of Lower Austria with the flight costs covered by the province of Lower Austria and the hotel for the subsequent two-week quarantine of carers – which for them means two weeks without income – paid for by the same province’s Chamber of Commerce.

In this context, the Chamber of Commerce and brokering agencies are portrayed as “saviors” of the endangered system, upholding the strongly needed care services for their desperate customers. They also appear to publicly negotiate on behalf of the carers, demanding coronavirus tests and a higher bonus for live-ins or the funding for quarantine in case live-ins get infected. At the same time, another narrative comes into play, especially visible in the criticism of the plane chartering: While some agencies – including those of leading Chamber officials – supposedly benefited from the flight, others were not given enough notice to put their own carers on the plane. This accusation of unfair practices as well as reports of transportation services that take care workers (potentially) illegally across the border, paint a picture of live-in care as a, at least in part, dubious industry – a media discourse that was also prevalent before the COVID-19 pandemic (Steiner et al. 2019).

The few reports about live-in carers portray them as “heroines”, like one Romanian carer who extended her shift in Austria: “Despite children: carer stays with Linz couple” (Kronen Zeitung 2020). The accompanying photo shows the mother of two young children together with the married couple she cares for while the short text “comforts” readers that she calls her kids, who are in Romania with their father, every day. Although presented as maintainers of the Austrian care system in the media, care workers’ perspectives and wishes remain overwhelmingly underreported. For the most part, they appear as passive objects – be it of travel restrictions or agencies’ transportation campaigns[5].

Although the COVID-19 pandemic draws attention to the fragility of the Austrian live-in care model, many aspects are only marginally addressed or not dealt with at all: Hardly any reporting questions the transnational model itself and the inequalities it is based on (Aulenbacher et al. 2020); the voluntary nature of extended shifts can be questioned against the background of the unequal power distribution between carers and households or agencies; and social, physical, and mental burdens and risks for care workers, exacerbated by extended shifts, seem to play as little a role as the loss of income for carers who no longer can come to Austria (see also Leichsenring et al. 2020). Overall, the current media reporting shows that safeguarding live-in care is seen as more important than good working conditions for those who provide it.


Aulenbacher, Brigitte, Michael Leiblfinger, and Veronika Prieler. 2020. „Jetzt kümmern sich zwei slowakische Frauen abwechselnd um meinen Vater …“ Institutionelle Logiken und soziale Ungleichheiten in der agenturvermittelten 24h-Betreuung. In: Seeliger, Martin, and Julia Gruhlich. Intersektionalität, Arbeit und Organisation. Weinheim, and Basel. Beltz Juventa: 127-141.

BMSGPK, Bundesministerium für Soziales, Gesundheit, Pflege und Konsumentenschutz. 2020. ANSCHOBER: Bundesregierung arbeitet mit Hochdruck an Lösung für 24h BetreuerInnen. https://www.ots.at/presseaussendung/OTS_20200314_OTS0040. Last accessed: 14.03.2020.

Der Standard. 2020. Modell der 24-Stunden-Pflege droht zu zerbrechen. https://derstandard.at/2000116172322. Last accessed: 26.03.2020.

Kronen Zeitung. 2020. Trotz Kinder: Pflegerin bleibt bei Linzer Ehepaar. https://www.krone.at/2126145. Last accessed: 29.03.2020.

Leiblfinger, Michael, and Veronika Prieler. 2018. Elf Jahre 24-Stunden-Betreuung in Österreich: Eine Policy- und Regime-Analyse. Linzer Beiträge zu Wirtschaft – Ethik – Gesellschaft, Band 9, Linz: Katholische Privat-Universität Linz.

Leichsenring, Kai, Heidemarie Staflinger, and Annette Bauer. 2020. Report: The importance of migrant caregivers in the Austrian Long Term Care system highlighted by the Covid-19 outbreak. https://ltccovid.org/2020/04/01/report-the-importance-of-migrant-caregivers-in-the-austrian-long-term-care-system-highlighted-by-the-covid-19-outbreak/. Last accessed: 06.04.2020.

ORF, Österreichischer Rundfunk. 2020a. Anschober will bei Tests „massiv zulegen“. https://orf.at/stories/3158974/. Last accessed: 23.03.2020.

ORF, Österreichischer Rundfunk. 2020b. ZIB Spezial: Die Bilanz-Pressekonferenz vom 30.03.2020 um 10:58 Uhr [Television broadcast]. Vienna, AT: Österreichischer Rundfunk.

Österle, August, and Gudrun Bauer. 2016. The Legalization of Rotational 24-hour Care Work in Austria: Implications for Migrant Care Workers. Social Politics 23 (2): 192-213.

[1] This report is part of the D-A-CH-project “Decent Care Work? Transnational Home Care Arrangements”, a cooperation of Aranka Benazha, Amanda Glanert, Helma Lutz, Iga Obrocka, and Ewa Palenga-Möllenbeck from Goethe University Frankfurt/Germany; Brigitte Aulenbacher, Michael Leiblfinger, and Veronika Prieler from Johannes Kepler University Linz/Austria; and Karin Schwiter, Jennifer Steiner, and Anahi Villalba from the University of Zurich/Switzerland. It is funded by the German Research Foundation DFG project no. LU 630/14-1, by the Austrian Science Fund FWF project no. I 3145 G-29, and by the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF project no. 170353.

[2] The authors are grateful to Ralf Schädlich for language editing.

[3] For information on the live-in care model itself see, e.g., Österle/Bauer (2016) or Leiblfinger/Prieler (2018).

[4] Here and throughout the report, quotations from German sources were translated into English by the authors.

[5] Care workers are organizing online, e.g. in the group “DREPT pentru ingrijire” (Justice for Care Work), though those efforts have not yet reached mass media reporting.

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