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14 February 2012
Care workers suffering slashed wages
Sue Powell, Gloucester Socialist Party
With only a quarter of care homes owned by local authorities, the rest - run by private companies, charities and not-for-profit organisations - generally pay much less to staff than the public sector.
County council cuts across the South West have meant that charities providing care services have begun to slash wages. Many care workers are employed part-time and can ill afford to lose money.
Care workers employed by Mencap, Brandon Trust and the United Response Domiciliary Care Agency in Cornwall were told wages would be cut by approximately 32% after the County Council axed £4 million from learning disabilities care by slashing the hourly rates paid to the charities.
Staff members who transferred over are furious, as Unison reported: "Staff came across with Tupe protection and the NHS pension scheme, but now Brandon is proposing that most people will lose £4,000 to £5,000 a year."
The Bristol-based Brandon Trust is a learning disabilities charity which employs nearly 2,000 people supporting about 1,500 residents across the South West, it also runs extra care units and outreach services.
Carers in Cornwall were offered cash to give up NHS terms and conditions which were protected under labour law when they transferred to not-for-profit companies.
United Resources imposed the pay cuts and withdrew the employer's pension contribution, and many staff left.
Brandon Trust offered staff compensation of £2,000 to £10,000 depending on length of service. Unison said: "Because of spending cuts imposed by the coalition government, they [Brandon] were called in by the council and effectively told to cut costs by 20% or lose the contract. It was blackmail, really".
A similar story has now emerged in Gloucestershire where wage cuts of up to 50% are being imposed on former NHS staff employed by Brandon Trust which took over the county's care contract in 2006.
Gloucestershire County Council now wants to change the terms of the £9.5 million ten-year deal as of 2014, so it can pick and choose individual services, rather than 'bulk buying' as at present.
This means a £2.5 million cut in the trust's council funding, which will hit workers directly in the pocket.
The unions believe the wage cuts will result in an exodus from the care sector, with qualified staff being replaced by inexperienced workers on lower wages.
Various studies have shown that the number of care workers being paid less than the minimum wage is already five times higher than previously thought.
At least 9% of the care workforce in England earn below the minimum wage (the "conservative estimate" of the Low Pay Commission is 156,673 to 219,241 direct care workers in the UK).
A recent study carried out by Kings College into the effects of cuts and low pay pointed out: "There are huge risks involved if this issue is not tackled.
"Staff are likely to burn out as they become ever more worried about their jobs and low pay - and this may directly affect the quality of care they provide".
Staff in Gloucestershire told us they had been told not to talk about what was happening, but said "everyone is really angry and upset".
Some fear they will lose their homes. They also worry about the effects on people in their care, for whom a change of carer could prove devastating. "You can't get to know the service users in five minutes.
"When I started we were trained by qualified nurses, but now that's the responsibility of care staff". Carers feel they are being thrown on the scrapheap - along with their clients.
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