'Every workplace should be carer-friendly - it doesn't cost a thing'

Carers’ Week: UniteLive highlights how workplace carers’ policies can make a big difference

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Yesterday for Carers’ Week this week, UniteLIVE explored the main issues unpaid carers face, especially now in lockdown amid the pandemic. Today, in part two of our story, we find out how having a carers’ policy in your workpace can make a big difference.

Unite rep Justin Morgan, who works as carpenter for a housing association in Wales, has become a big champion for carers – despite not being one himself.

Although he is currently furloughed, before the lockdown he was in discussions with his employer Trivallis to implement a specific carer’s policy.

“Initially I had a conversation with our HR department and they were keen on the idea,” he told UniteLIVE. “They wanted to add it to our leave policy but I called for separate carers’ policy. We’ve got so many policies in our workplace that it’s difficult to pinpoint them. If we had one specific policy, carers know exactly where to go.”

Justin says many of Trivallis’ policies – from emergency paid leave to flexible working and a reduced-hours policy for those who cannot work a full 37 hour week – are already carer-friendly. But a carers’ policy that consolidates all of these sends a strong message that carers matter.

“It give them the confidence to know that they can speak openly about their caring role to their employer; that they won’t be passed up for promotions or seen as a problem,” he said.

“Central to our push for a carers’ policy in our workplace is involving our members,” Justin added. “We plan to send out a survey to our members to find out how many carers we have and what their needs are – and what they would personally like to see in a carer’s policy. There may be things that we haven’t got covered at the moment so it’s vital to have carers’ voices at the heart of any policy.”

Kate Cubbage, head of external affairs at the Carers Trust Wales, explains why having a separate and specific carers’ policy is so vital as well.

“It just gives you a central point of information to be fair and consistent. It doesn’t have to be delivered in ad-hoc way based on your manager’s knowledge of your rights. It helpful to create an atmosphere that you can come to a conversation with shared expectations.”

What’s more, a carers’ policy in the workplace can help identify carers who don’t necessarily see themselves as one.

“Lack of self-identification is so commonplace,” Kate notes. “And once we ask carers who are newly self-identified how long they’ve been caring for it’s often years and years before they realise it. Having a policy with the name on it can create a shared understanding. Carers might, for example, not need support at work but maybe they need it at home. Getting that support from their workplace can have a huge knock-on effect on their well-being.”

Caring about our carers in the workplace also has no price tag – and brings with it immense benefits for businesses.

“Supporting carers helps to improve well-being of your employees; a well-supported carer will have a higher attendance record and will contribute more to the workplace. There is a very clear case for having carer friendly workplaces.”

Unite regional women and equalities officer Jo Galazka agreed.

“It’s the same as a child having a supportive teacher that can literally change the trajectory of their lives. Having a supportive workplace and boss really makes a difference. Allowing an employee to leave a few minutes early to attend a doctor’s appointment can mean the difference between that employee being forced to go on long-term sick because they can’t take the stress anymore – or that same employee really succeeding in work. Carers have very unique skillsets that they can bring to really strengthen any workplace. Every workplace should be carer-friendly. It doesn’t cost a thing.”

Kate, Jo and Justin all felt that the pandemic and lockdown represents a pivotal moment that can bring carers and theirs needs squarely into the limelight so that they get the recognition and support they deserve. This is why the theme of Carer’s Week this year is ‘Making Caring Visible’.

“The pandemic has helped to raise awareness about the amazing things that carers do every day behind closed doors in their homes,” Kate noted. “And I think that recognition is beginning to translate to an understanding of why it’s so important to support carers in all aspects of their lives. Organisations like the Carers’ Trust Wales are working really hard to build on and maintain that momentum so that the gaps we were experiencing before the pandemic in support that was available – particularly respite care – are closed.”

Justin added that carers play “absolutely vital” roles in our society.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s taken something like this pandemic for people to realise how important they are. There were carers a long time before this pandemic and there will be carers a long time after it’s over. They deserve so much more recognition and support and that’s what we’ll be fighting for.”

He added that he was proud to be part of a union like Unite that plays such a strong, campaigning role.

“It’s been brilliant working with people like Jo who has been so proactive in organising seminars with the Carers Trust. I’ve really learned a lot. Sometimes as reps we get a host of other problems to deal with, mostly disciplinaries, and so many other vital issues can sometimes fall by the wayside. But Unite keeps carers on the agenda and really encourages us as reps to keep it on the agenda in our workplaces as well.”

During Carers’ Week this week Jo has a message for all those carers who are struggling, especially now.

“I know what it’s like to feel hopeless, when you’re shouting out but no one else is listening. But Unite as the union and voice of carers will be with you no matter the circumstance. You are not alone and we will always stand with you no matter how difficult things get.”

You can find out more about the Carers Trust and they work they do, on their website here. Find out how you can take part in Carers’ Week here.

By Hajera Blagg

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