Don’t go home: 43% of care workers in Malta are foreign

Malta has Europe’s highest share of foreign workers employed in long-term healthcare

In September 2019 Malta had 209 home-based care workers, of whom 174 were from the Philippines and mostly worked as live-in carers
In September 2019 Malta had 209 home-based care workers, of whom 174 were from the Philippines and mostly worked as live-in carers

Malta has the highest share of foreign workers working in the long-term care (LTC) sector in the European Union, a group that includes home-based carers with the elderly and disabled as well as those in residential homes.

A comparative study published by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions reveals that Malta (43%), Luxembourg (21%), Ireland (19%) and Austria (14%) have the highest share of foreign workers in the LTC sector, followed by the UK (13%), Cyprus, Germany, Italy, Norway (all 12%) and Sweden (11%).

On the other hand, several EU member states have virtually no migrants working in LTC: Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia (all 1% or below).

The composition of the foreign workforce differs across the EU. In the four countries with the largest share of foreign workers, two have a considerable share of non-EU migrant workers (Ireland and Malta), while two others do not (Austria and Luxembourg).

In Malta, 46% of foreign LTC workers are migrant workers, while 54% are mobile citizens from the rest of the EU. In contrast, only about 1 in 20 foreign LTC workers are migrants in Austria (5%) and Luxembourg (4%), while most are from the EU (95% and 96%, respectively).

Malta’s 174 Filipino home-based carers

In September 2019 Malta had 209 home-based care workers, of whom 174 were from the Philippines and mostly worked as live-in carers. 87% of these workers were female. Filipino domestic carers in Malta are paid a gross salary of around €10,000 annually.

Information provided to Eurofound by DIER in 2020 shows that workers who sleep in their employer’s house for more than 16 nights in any month are eligible for a monthly wage of €799.23, while those who sleep for less than 16 nights every month are eligible for €782.94. Work on public holidays or rest days should be paid double the daily rate and any overtime over and above the eight-hour day has to be paid at a 1.5 rate.

But research by industrial relations expert Manwel Debono suggests that 2% of the Filipino working community in Malta do not have work contracts.

The EU study also refers to interviews with Filipino workers by Raisa Galea published in the Isles of the Left showing that Filipino live-in carers “usually work six days per week, 24 hours per day, with one day off a week, and have one month’s leave per year”. Live-in carers in Malta typically also receive a paid trip home once a year.

The study suggests that in Malta and Cyprus, undeclared work appears to have been avoided “by the relatively straightforward option of migrants obtaining residence permits for care work.”

Allowing live-in care to be paid from public subsidies has also helped in ensuring its regularisation in both Malta and the Netherlands. A ‘carer at home’ subsidy of €5,200 per year was introduced in Malta in 2017.

Other measures undertaken by Malta include the requirement for wages to be paid by bank transfer and the exclusion of employers with undeclared workers from future public procurement.

While in Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, the majority of the LTC workforce is employed in the public sector in Austria, Greece, Malta and the Netherlands the workforce is entirely or almost entirely concentrated in the private sector, EU27, about 6.3 million people work in LTC, which is 3.2% of the EU’s entire workforce. The LTC workforce as a share of the entire workforce ranges from 0.3% in Greece to 7.1% in Sweden. In Malta LTC workers constitute 3.5% of the entire workforce.   

Focusing on this sector is crucial “to address poverty and precarious working conditions,” the report concludes. Moreover the COVID-19 crisis is expected to “accelerate the move away from large-scale residential LTC”.

But it is hard to predict the impact of the crisis as “fewer are signing up to work in close-contact professions.” And the care user’s home as work environment remains “hard to regulate and control”.

Moreover live-in care, where the LTC worker lives in the care receiver’s home, is associated with risks around working conditions and quality of care. Regularisation can be facilitated by attractive registration procedures, however “if good access to a flexible range of high-quality LTC services is offered, live-in care is rarely needed”.

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