PILP represents FNV in summary proceedings about long covid arrangement for healthcare workers

PILP represents FNV in summary proceedings about a long covid arrangement for healthcare workers. The unions FNV and CNV sent the summons today. The unions are demanding that the government financially compensates care workers, who have become incapacitated due to the disease long covid, at short notice. The government has so far refused to provide assistance to address the urgent financial distress faced by these care workers. Despite repeated talks with both unions over the past two-and-a-half years on how to flesh out a concrete scheme. FNV and CNV believe that the State is acting unlawfully and are now demanding an advance payment of €22.839,- per victim through summary proceedings. Within four weeks, the State must appoint a body that will take charge of its implementation.

Kitty Jong, vice-president FNV: ‘Healthcare staff had to continue working during the corona pandemic, while not enough personal protective equipment was available, because the State was not sufficiently prepared for a pandemic. It later became clear that the State had been warned repeatedly before the outbreak, but took measures too late and not enough. Also, a RIVM memo about insufficient protective equipment and a high risk of infection for healthcare workers was not shared with the hospitals’.

The State did not comply with the duty of care

Gaby Perin-Gopie, president CNV Care & Welfare (Zorg & Welzijn): ‘Moreover, the RIVM guidelines were constantly being updated, and regularly conflicted with existing guidelines and international conventions. The scarcity of aprons, mouth-nose masks and splash screens became guiding principles in the issued guidelines and not the health and safety of healthcare personnel, as stipulated in health & safety legislation. FNV and CNV believe that the State thereby acted in violation of the precautionary principle. The State did not fulfil its duty of care to adequately protect the lives and health of care workers.

Thousands of healthcare workers were infected with the coronavirus while doing their jobs, a significant group sustained long covid. Because of their illness, they could no longer perform their old work, and about 1.000 care workers have since become incapacitated and fired as a result. The loss of income of 30% – 50% puts an increasing proportion of them in acute financial difficulty. Because the costs of their rehabilitation course are also often only temporarily reimbursed, they quit and there is even less prospect of recovery. These frontline care heroes, two years later, are not only struggling with poor health, which prevents them from living a normal life. They also now worry about their basic necessities. Especially at this time of price increases. Some of them now rely on the food bank. Other victims have had to sell their homes. FNV and CNV believe that the government is not only morally, but also legally obliged to financially accommodate these care workers in the near future.

Prepayment

To tide over their financial distress, at least for the time ahead, the unions are claiming an advance payment of €22.839,- for each injured person to compensate them for their losses. This amount corresponds to the financial settlement in other occupational diseases, such as mesothelioma (asbestos cancer), OPS (Painters’ disease) and substance-related occupational diseases. Both COVID-19 and Long Covid are recognised occupational diseases. For more than two years, the FNV pleaded for a fund with the same amount as compensation, which did not have to be preceded by a legal process. In May 2022, CNV sent a summons to the Dutch state about compensation for the victims. With the government shirking all responsibility, the unions joined hands and converted the compensation of €22.839,- into an advance of compensation and claimed it by summary proceedings. This amount may be higher later when the full damages suffered are known.

The role of the Ministry of Public Health, Welfare and Sport

Over two and a half years of meetings have taken place between former and current ministers and unions. Last summer, there were even talks with and about bodies that could implement an arrangement. A motion was also passed in the House of Representatives to financially compensate healthcare workers with long covid. Last September, Long-term Care Minister Helder asked for information from the Council of State for possible financial compensation. To that, she received a positive reply. So nothing seemed to stand in the way of a settlement anymore. However, in December, minister Helder published a letter in which she indicated that if unions and employers could reach a settlement together, she would make a capped contribution in 2023.

The unions were not satisfied with this proposition. The chances of success of such a collective arrangement are very slim, partly because there is already insufficient money in healthcare to offer workers a reasonable salary. It also reinforces the unions’ feeling that minister Helder is deliberately delaying proposals. In addition, the dismissed employees are no longer covered by any employer. They are now receiving benefits from the UWV. Moreover, the government prescribing preconditions for consultation between employers and unions infringes on the freedom of negotiation of unions.

Delimination

FNV and CNV want collective compensation for care workers who became infected with COVID-19 while performing their duties in 2020, suffered long covid as a result and have been unable to work less or at all as a result for more than two years. Around 1,000 care workers are already expected to be affected, most of whom are in contact with the unions. More than 500 care workers have now been examined by the UWV and lost their jobs and income. However, the group will grow as there are currently waiting times of up to nine months at the UWV.

Should the court not award damages at this point, FNV and CNV are asking the court to force the State to enter into new consultations with the unions in order to reach a proper settlement as soon as possible that meets the unions’ conditions.

PILP will act as FNV’s lawyer in this case. The summons has been prepared in cooperation with Mr M. Kingma of Höcker Advocaten and Mr P. Leermakers of BrandMR acting as lawyers for CNV.

Read more about the case here.