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Workers at the 'floor level'

Photo: Johann Baumgartner
Photo: Johann Baumgartner

We have challenged Signe Hananger, administrative leader of the Division of Health and Social Services at the Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees, to reflect upon characteristics and dilemmas related to an important labour force. 

- Our union members at Solstrand, also from the floor level, got new inspiration to go home and make an effort for a change. A task for us would be to work to maintain our own national standards, and at the same time help other countries to a higher quality. European dialogues related to long term care is of vital importance. But in the elderly sector it is sometimes difficult to point out the workers and the employer’s side: who should we invite into the dialogue, when there are so many care providers and such a variety of both state owned initiatives and private enterprises? asks Signe Hananger.

She continues:
- Also , these groups (assistant nurses, practical nurses) are few, and getting fewer. What can we do to get enough qualified staff? There are economic challenges related to this, a squeeze, and challenges in the competence situation. In Norway it is a goal to get people out of the hospitals, but the questions then will be: What kind of competence do we have and need in the long term care sector? Where do we get our recruitment? (Ethical dilemma – for instance if use of staff from low cost countries). In our country today 1 out of 4 from the labour force choose to work in the health sector, in the future we will need 1 of 3.

Health workers at the floor level – some characteristics:
• Most of them are female
• The wages for nurses and practical nurses are too low
• Many with no formal education (especially the assistants)
• Very often part time workers: aproximately 75% of the practical nurses and 50% of the nurses, but often forced to this. Our union wants to statutory the right to full-time work.

Four dilemmas:
• Every employee would like to do their job well, knowing that they make a difference. But Assistant nurses and nurses need more education, but their wages won’t necessarily rise as a result of this.
• When lack of staff, what about the volunteers? In Denmark many communities now use the opportunity to save money, by replacing nurses and assistant nurses with volunteers. Unions fear this situation, where jobs at the floor level disappear as a result of this attitude. In Germany 20.000 nurses were fired last year.
• Quality standards: what do we want, how much are we willing to pay?
How can qualified staff and volunteers play together to improve the quality standards, to prevent loneliness and improve the public health?

Contact information: Signe Hananger
Administrative leader of the Division of Health and Social Services at the Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees since 2003. She is a nurse and a lawyer and has a Master’s degree in management. She is working with issues concerning elderly care, education and skill needs in the sector both at a national and at a European level. signe.hananger@fagforbundet.no