Unite which represents thousands of social care workers has sharply criticised the announcement by the government today (November 2) about how workers underpaid for sleep over shifts while on duty will be compensated.
Following a recent employment appeal tribunal decision, workers whose shifts include a sleep over while on duty must be paid at least the minimum wage for the entire period they are at work. Previously, most organisations argued that such shifts were not subject to national minimum wage legislation.
The government has decided that organisations affected by the ruling will be encouraged to join a voluntary scheme called the Social Care Compliance Scheme (SCCS). By joining the scheme employers can delay repaying money owed to workers until March 2019.
If a company does not sign up to the SCCS they can be subject to the HMRC’s normal penalties and naming and shaming procedures.
Despite rightly confirming organisations should be paying workers historic underpayments, many of which are charities managing outsourced local authority contracts, the government has failed to provide any additional funding.
The social care sector already has a funding deficit of £2.3bn and this decision will place further financial pressure on already overstretched organisations and could lead to some of them facing serious financial difficulties. It is estimated today’s decision will cost organisations £400m.
To resolve these issues and ensure that the social care sector is properly funded, Unite campaigns for the creation of a National Care Service (similar to the NHS).
The union also argues that social care funding for local authorities should be ring-fenced and that local authorities should adopt fair and robust procurement policies for these contracts which ensure that workers’ wages are not pushed to the bottom to win contracts and boost profits.
Unite is moreover campaigning for the creation of a national social care collective bargaining agreement to ensure pay, conditions, education and training are properly negotiated.
Responding to the government’s decision on social care underpayments, Unite national officer Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe called it “a typical ham-fisted response from the government”.
“Organisations which have been exploiting our members are effectively being let off the hook,” he said.
“Even if a worker is made aware of what they should have been paid, they will have to wait up to 15 months to receive their unpaid wages. The very high staff turnover in this sector will mean that many workers will be unaware of the ruling and will not receive unpaid wages.
“This was a golden opportunity for the government to begin to transform the social care sector to allow it to meet the challenges of an aging society,” Jarrett-Thorpe added. “An opportunity the government has singly failed to grasp.
“The UK’s social care crisis is set to remain massively underfunded unless we establish a National Care Service with proper bargaining and procurement rules.”
Effected workers are encouraged to contact their Unite rep or official for further advice.