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Health Services

Tripartite meeting highlights the importance of improving health sector employment and working conditions

Decent work is crucial to ensuring effective and resilient health systems, addressing global health workforce shortages and achieving equal access to quality health care.

News | 11 May 2017
© M. Rakibul Hasan / UN Women
GENEVA (ILO News) – A Tripartite Meeting on Improving Employment and Working Conditions in Health Services organized by the ILO in Geneva from 24 to 28 April brought together representatives of governments, employers and workers from around the world to discuss challenges and opportunities in the rapidly changing health sector.

Participants emphasized the importance of the health sector for employment creation and inclusive economic growth and its potential to significantly contribute to the goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Yet health care systems face numerous challenges including limited public funding, workforce shortages, occupational safety and health (OSH) risks, adequate social protection, and the effects of health worker migration. As a result of some of these factors, the sector struggles to attract young people into the workforce and to ensure decent work and access to health services for all.

Participants agreed that decent work for health workers should be considered “in the context of the future of work, in particular the demographic trends that are driving the high demand for health workers, rapid development in population health needs, including in preparation for and in response to public health emergencies.”

The role of science and technology, evolving migration and gender dynamics, and changing work relationships, including the rise of non-standard employment (NSE) in the sector also need to be addressed. To this end, social dialogue was recognized as a key strategy, accompanied by measures to protect and promote workers’ rights.

This document commits the social partners in the health sector to decent work and will provide additional policy guidance to improve the working conditions of health workers."

Rosa Pavanelli, spokesperson for the workers’ group
In a document adopted at the end of the meeting, governments and the social partners concluded that skills development and training, continued education coupled with evaluation, enforcement of OSH standards, and better working conditions, including remuneration, can lead to greater attractiveness of careers in health services and improve productivity. They also emphasized the need to ensure policy coherence in international initiatives and partnerships in line with existing labour standards and World Health Organization (WHO) guidance tools.

The conclusions call on constituents to invest in and implement national health workforce strategies in accordance with the recommendations of the High-level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth.

“The adoption of the conclusions is a real milestone achieved in the health sector,” the government vice-chairperson of the meeting, Habiba Kherrour, said.

“This document commits the social partners in the health sector to decent work and will provide additional policy guidance to improve the working conditions of health workers constituting a clear path for our future joint work. The document recognizes the importance of the High-level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth and its recommendations and ensures tripartite commitment to their implementation,” said Rosa Pavanelli, spokesperson for the workers’ group at the meeting.

“By addressing the needs of home and community based care workers, the most vulnerable health workers will be taken into account. A strong commitment to universal health care through adequate public funding and regulation of both public and private health providers also gives a solid base to public health for all,” she added.

“We consider it a priority to work on the agreed measures and to analyse them; the access of young people to employment in the health sector, regulation of the migration of health workers, social dialogue for developing sustainable health sector policies, gender equality, the greater presence of health professionals in remote or rural areas, and investment in skills development and training,” said Angel Javier Vicente Perez, spokesperson for the employers’ group at the meeting.

The ILO was mandated to undertake a comprehensive study of its member states’ national laws and practices in the health sector. The goal is to assess if current ILO programmes, activities and instruments, as well as those of WHO, provide a sufficient framework for ILO constituents to promote decent employment for all in the sector. The study would also explore if additional policy guidance is needed, especially regarding home-care and community-based health workers.

Participants also recommended that the ILO develops a health workforce research agenda together with its constituents, the WHO, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and other specialized agencies.