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Wonderful care workers deserve fair wages

May 7th 2020

Lynne Hackett of UNISON Cymru Wales highlights the role of carers and why change is needed to ensure the quality of care for clients and dignity at work for employees

Joining your neighbours to clap for key workers and seeing the community spirit has been one of the few positives in the coronavirus pandemic. But how many of us have stopped to think exactly what care work entails or why so many carers suffer in-work poverty?

Every day, UNISON Cymru Wales hears examples of care workers who provide expert care to their clients, including checking on their welfare, helping them with medication or preparing their meals. Now, they are also doing their very best to bring cheer in the lockdown.

Care workers don’t choose their job because of the wages; many in the private or non-profit care sector would earn more elsewhere, undertaking unskilled work with less responsibility. They love their job and want to do their best to help the vulnerable in their town.

Over the last few weeks, UNISON has helped to publicise stories in the press about the poor practices of some private care homes flouting government and health guidelines and putting their staff and clients in harm’s way.

Not every care provider in Wales is like this and it’s no surprise that employer-staff relationships and employee and client welfare, are better where councils directly-run care support or homes.

It’s not rocket-science: when an employer recognises a trade union and involves it and staff in decision-making, standards are higher. There are good examples and not-for-profit, Perthyn, is one.

Perthyn: an example of good practice

Perthyn provides 24/7 supported-living care for adults with learning disabilities in Cardiff, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Powys and Swansea. Staff ensure clients live as full lives as possible. In lockdown care workers have been creative holding Hawaiian-themed nights and virtual pub quizzes and helping clients to contact their families via Skype.

In a humbling act, at the start of the pandemic one Powys care worker agreed to self-isolate for two weeks with the person she supported when he had Covid-19 symptoms. Without complaint, she gathered her things and went to stay with him. During this period, she taught him new skills in the kitchen and garden. Colleagues phoned them both daily and left food, treats, messages, games and DVDs on the doorstep to keep their spirits up.

The support worker had time off after her isolation period and when she returned to the client he was beside himself with excitement.

UNISON has a positive working relationship with Perthyn and the charity emphasises its commitment to employees. For those staff needing to shield and enter furlough it ensures wages are topped up to 100 per cent and are based upon an average of 12 months pay including overtime and sleep-in supplements, not just on basic pay.

Where staff are off sick due to Covid-19, this absence is not counted against their sickness record.

Perthyn says when new employees are TUPE- transferred from another care provider, they can tell who comes from an employer which recognises trade unions because their wages and employment conditions are better.

Improving pay to reflect the vital service carers provide

The sad truth is Britain has social care ‘on the cheap’. The care sector has been starved of money, particularly during the decade of Conservative austerity. Many care workers, particularly in the private or non-profit sector, suffer in-work poverty.

The Covid-19 lockdown has highlighted the vital contribution of care workers supporting our loved ones. The £500 bonus for all care workers announced by the Welsh government is welcome but it does not deal with the systemic low pay in the sector. It is time for government and society to be honest and provide the huge and sustained investment the sector and care workers so desperately need.

UNISON has developed an Ethical Care Charter which would ensure quality care for clients and dignity at work for employees. We believe all care workers should earn at least £10 per hour. Fair pay for care workers now!


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