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Less part-time work to secure more “warm hands”

| Text: Marie Preisler

A major and urgent lack of trained social and health care assistants – so-called SOSUs – has led to a heated debate over the widespread use of part-time jobs in Denmark’s social and health care sector.

In 10 years, Danish hospitals and the municipal nursing sector might be short of some 40 000 trained social and health care workers. There is already a shortage of so-called “warm hands” to look after the sick and elderly. At the same time, the majority of SOSUs work part-time.  

The social partners are discussing this dilemma, and agree that the lack of SOSUs represents a serious social problem which must be solved. They do not agree on how, however. 

Municipal and regional employers who run the country’s hospitals say getting more SOSUs into full-time jobs rather than having them work part-time is key. Today nearly all SOSU positions are part-time, which means they cover less than 37 hours a week – the standard for a full-time job in the Danish labour market. 

The right to a full-time hospital job

Nine in ten social and health care helpers work part-time. Eight in ten social and health care assistants do the same. In December 2019, the regions made a clear decision to change that. SOSU assistants and nurses who work part-time in hospitals are now free to choose to go full-time. Their employer is not allowed to say no to a request for a full-time job, and new positions must be offered as full-time jobs. 

The agreement is with the Danish Association of Local Government Employees Organisations (Forhandlingsfællesskabet), which represents 51 trade unions and negotiates with municipal and regional employers – including FOA, Denmark’s third-largest trade union. FOA represents SOSU helpers and SOSU assistants, and is happy with the fact that the agreement gives hospital SOSU workers the right to full-time jobs they can make a living from.

In FOA’s view, this is far from enough, however. Municipal employers are still offering more part-time than full-time jobs. FOA says work environments must improve too, before SOSUs can comfortably take on full-time employment. FOA also calls for systematic skills development and further education for SOSUs. 

Confronting the part-time culture

Municipal employers do not accept that work environments are worse for people in full-time jobs. Michael Ziegler is the chief negotiator at KL – Local Government Denmark. In January 2020 he told the A4 website that experiences from Norway and Sweden showed that spending more time at work could actually improve the work environment, because the working day is more predictable and because tasks can be more evenly spread throughout the day.

Mr Ziegler has also said that municipalities do not plan to introduce a general right to full-time work, because it is unlikely that many part-time workers would choose to go full-time. He does, however, think it is time to tackle the part-time culture within the social and health care sectors – both among employers and employees.

This is particularly relevant for women who work part-time out of choice because it gives them a better work-life balance, according to an analysis from the Confederation of Danish Employers of part-time work in the Danish labour market. 

More in education

To work as a SOSU helper and SOSU assistant you need vocational training consisting of two basic courses divided between theory and work practice. SOSU helper training lasts one year, while it takes up to two years to complete SOSU assistant training. There has been increased interest in both, unlike other vocational training schemes which have experienced stagnation or a reduction in applications. This has happened despite a new vocational training reform aimed at getting more young people to chose this type of education.

Yet the increased number of young SOSU students is not enough to solve the severe shortage of trained care workers, according to Lisbeth Nørgaard. She heads the association for Danish SOSU schools. It has called for SOSU schools to become even more attractive training choices for people how have lost their jobs in abattoirs, unemployed people with immigrant backgrounds and other groups outside of the labour market.

The government, KL and Danish Regions have established a task force to discuss concrete initiatives that might attract more people to the elderly care and health sectors. FOA has come up with a range of proposals, including paying SOSU students during their basic training and to strengthen student support in order to prevent students from leaving prematurely.


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