Barbara Thiessen is a gender researcher at Landshut University of Applied Sciences, where she heads the Institute for Social Change and Cohesion Research.
ZEIT ONLINE: The state governments have compiled lists of systemically relevant professions, including educators, but also nursing staff in hospitals and care facilities. How can it be that you get so little money when work is obviously indispensable? Federal Minister of Labor Hubertus Heil (SPD) also calls for wage increases for these professional groups, who are special performers in the Corona crisis.
Barbara Thiessen: Many of these occupations have an extremely high proportion of women, and it is nothing new that women in this profession receive rhetorical recognition, as can be heard these days when the health professionals who care for corona sufferers clap in the evening. In my opinion, the main reason behind the clapping is the fear that the skilled workers could collapse in the face of the challenges and bad conditions. In fact, today it is still assumed that care is in the female gender character and does not see this as a qualification that has to be trained and paid for. Care is seen as every woman activity. Professions that are close to housework are still mythologized and devalued at the same time.
ZEIT ONLINE: What are you up to?
Thiessen: Manufacturing professions are generally rated better than nursing professions. This means that responsibility for machines is rated higher than that for people. In order to set tariffs, each job is examined carefully: What does the person do? What does it have to do? What responsibility does she have? The negotiating of wages is the responsibility of the tariff parties. In the so-called productive occupations, i.e. craft, agriculture, industry-related activities, individual actions are recorded much more precisely. In the nursing area, on the other hand, handouts are described, but for example the conversations that a nurse has with a patient while washing or putting on clothes are not listed at all. They should simply be supplied with the gender character. According to logic, such skills do not have to be specially trained and they do not become money. Responsibility for people is not adequately portrayed in either the nursing or educational area. Women are in the minority in collective bargaining, especially on the employers’ side.
ZEIT ONLINE: Why has this disadvantage not been eliminated to date?
Thiessen: You see nothing in the upgrading of nursing professions but a cost factor. These professions are classified as “unproductive” services, as opposed to “productive” ones, as if they had no monetary significance for society, as if they were not essential for the well-being of individuals and for social cohesion. A fifth of the population now works in the so-called SAHGE professions.
ZEIT ONLINE: SAHGE professions?
Thiessen: Yes, this is an acronym for social work, household services, health and educational professions. This term was coined to counter the STEM professions and to express something: by the way, there is something else that is socially important. Due to digitization and the outsourcing of jobs to low-wage countries, we will probably find that soon only a fifth of the population will work in the industrial manufacturing professions. Nevertheless, we pretend that the well-being of this republic depends, for example, on the auto industry and its suppliers. With the corona pandemic we see once again that the importance of careers has been mercilessly underestimated. And the suffering capacity of the workers there was overestimated. Nurses, nurses and geriatric nurses go into early retirement more often than average, doing part-time work to keep up.
ZEIT ONLINE: One often reads that Germany has one of the best health systems in the world. But the basics don’t seem to work, namely to have enough staff to look after the elderly, the sick and the weak. Why?
Thiessen: It is also due to the fact that many who like to do their job eventually drop out. They say they cannot be held responsible for working in this way. We have known this serious lawsuit for over 30 years. And the answer is always: Then we get cheap labor from other countries. In the eighties, it was South Koreans and Filipinas. Now you continue to search all over the world. In China, nurses are to be trained according to German standards in order to come here.
ZEIT ONLINE: Because one hopes that migrants’ ability to suffer is higher?
Thiessen: Yes exactly. The calculation is that you can perhaps still expect these working conditions. But the calculation didn’t work out. The entire global north is looking for care workers in the global south.
ZEIT ONLINE: 75 nurses from the Philippines have just been flown to Hesse to care for Covid 19 patients.
Thiessen: This strategy has been used for decades. It’s still cheaper than upgrading the nursing profession here. And privatization and the associated return expectations have often made working conditions even worse. The fact that clinics should generate profits only works if you save on staff. Everything was shut down in a privatized health and care system. It’s not that we didn’t know that.