‘Migrant Workers in the Home Care Sector: Preparing for the Elder Boom in Ireland’, published today by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI), tracks Ireland’s impending ‘elder boom’ and details the messy reality of Ireland’s care sector.
Every 30 minutes, someone in Ireland turns 80 years of age. The vast majority of people would prefer to be cared for in their own homes. Much of the home care industry in Ireland is unregulated and is rapidly expanding – resulting in exploitation of workers and varying standards of care for older people. Migrant women are over-represented in the home care sector, and MRCI research reveals that many are underpaid, overworked and subject to harassment, racism and discrimination. Aging populations in Ireland and the EU will continue to increase the demand for home care and migrant workers into the future.
Gráinne O’ Toole spokesperson for MRCI stated, “Care work is central to our society – everyone needs to be cared for at some point in their life. We cannot continue with the current ad-hoc and unregulated system of home care provision which undermines both the quality of care and the conditions for workers. Migrant workers reported having no employment contracts, working on call and night shifts without extra pay and many did not receive minimum wages, annual leave or public holidays. Being subjected to racism, working excessive hours and undertaking heavy workloads was also prevalent in this sector. Increasingly, many undocumented migrants are filling care roles and because of their irregular status are more vulnerable to exploitation. Care work needs to be valued and the needs of older people and care workers regardless of immigration status respected.”
Ann Guan, a Home Care Worker, said “I am responsible for the well-being of the people I care for, and I take that responsibility very seriously. Even though this is the hardest work I’ve ever done, I barely earn minimum wages. My duties include everything from feeding and bathing to housework and medical tasks. I have to be alert all night in case I am needed. I am always tired.”
Gráinne O’Toole concluded, “The absence of laws to govern this sector is an urgent problem that the government needs to address. The reality is that migrant workers including undocumented migrants will continue to provide home care services. Comprehensive reform is needed in this sector including a pathway for undocumented carers to regularise their status. If we are serious about caring for older people into the future we need to plan for the growth of our ageing population, we need to create sustainable channels for migration and we need to address the exploitation of migrant workers urgently.”
Esther (42) from Malawi was employed by a private company providing a range of home care options to clients, some of whom were HSE patients. Esther cared for an older couple in their nineties. She would live in their home for five days, and then have five days off. Her day started at 8am and finished at 10pm, but she was on call overnight due to the male client’s care needs. She was paid €90 per day, and never received on-call or overnight fees. The male client needed assistance to carry out all his daily functions. He had a catheter and had to wear a urinary sheath. Esther had no formal training in either and felt embarrassed and ashamed when confronted with such intimate duties. The patient was allocated one hour of HSE home help each morning to assist with his mobility and bathing. The rest of the time Esther was unable to lift him when he was uncomfortable, as she needed assistance with this. She raised this with the management but no assistance was provided. Despite living in close proximity to many of the agency’s clients, she was never given the day shift positions. “They contacted me when live-in work came up because they knew they can’t get anyone else to do it. I was the easy target. I never raised a complaint about my conditions. I was afraid to lose my job. I know I was not being paid for the nights but I don’t have a choice.” After an Irish worker complained about the lack of hourly rates, the situation improved and Esther began to do 12 hour shifts thereafter for which she received an hourly rate.
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