Strengthening Healthcare Through Social Dialogue


The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a spotlight on the crucial role of healthcare workers, underscoring their invaluable contribution to society during unprecedented times. Their dedication, despite significant challenges, has highlighted the urgent need for sustainable solutions to bolster the healthcare sector. As we navigate the aftermath of the pandemic, addressing labour shortages and deteriorating working conditions becomes imperative.

A Looming Crisis in Healthcare Employment

The healthcare sector is at a crossroads, facing a critical labour shortage that threatens its ability to provide essential services. The exodus of seasoned professionals, coupled with the difficulty in attracting new entrants, poses a significant challenge. This crisis prompts a crucial question: Can social dialogue and collective bargaining offer a roadmap to a more resilient healthcare workforce?

The Pillars of Pandemic Response: Social Dialogue and Collective Bargaining

During the COVID-19 crisis, social dialogue and collective bargaining emerged as foundational elements in maintaining operational continuity in hospitals. Eurofound’s research highlights the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on health and care workers, who faced high physical risks, exposure to adverse social behaviour, and overwhelming workloads. 

Despite these challenges, the solidarity among workers and their commitment to patient care remained strong. However, the sustainability of employment in this sector is under severe threat, with many workers reporting health and safety concerns and experiencing burnout. Addressing these issues requires a comprehensive approach, emphasising the importance of social dialogue to mitigate the risks and improve job quality.

Enhancing Job Quality and Sustainability

The pandemic has underscored the need for a broader scope of social dialogue, extending beyond traditional topics to address the complex challenges faced by healthcare workers. 

Countries with strong traditions of social dialogue, such as Austria, Belgium, and the Nordic countries, have successfully navigated these challenges through collaborative efforts. This approach has facilitated significant adjustments in work organisation and resource allocation, crucial for sustaining hospital operations during the crisis.

Addressing the Challenges Ahead

The ongoing staff shortages, exacerbated by global competition for healthcare workers, underscore the urgency of developing strategies to improve staff retention and recruitment. 

The impact of stress and heavy workloads on leaving the sector highlights the need for interventions to make healthcare employment more attractive and sustainable. Eurofound’s findings reveal the effectiveness of social dialogue and collective bargaining in addressing the challenges faced by the healthcare sector during the pandemic. This collaborative approach is essential for ensuring a robust and healthy hospital sector, capable of facing future challenges, including demographic shifts and the implications of climate change.

The Role of Social Partners in Shaping the Future of Healthcare

The involvement of social partners is crucial in devising and implementing strategies to address the pressing concerns of the healthcare sector. Their engagement is key to developing a resilient healthcare system that can continue to provide quality services in the face of future challenges. 

As we look toward the future, fostering a strong and healthy hospital sector through effective social dialogue and collective bargaining remains foundational to the EU’s preparedness for the challenges ahead. This comprehensive approach to revitalising the healthcare sector underscores the importance of collaboration, dialogue, and collective action. 

By addressing the immediate challenges and laying the groundwork for future resilience, we can ensure that the healthcare sector remains a pillar of strength and reliability for society.