The government needs to step in and change the law following today’s (Friday March 19) Supreme Court ruling that carers, who have to sleep at their workplace in case they are needed overnight, are not entitled to the national minimum wage (NMW) for their whole shift.
The call came from Unite, which said the Supreme Court had failed to recognise the ‘immense contribution’ that highly skilled care workers make during the night delivering essential adult social care, especially during the year-long pandemic.
Unite said that the ruling would do nothing to tackle the ‘recruitment and retention’ crisis with thousands of vacancies in the care sector and the wider funding ‘gap’ in social care that the government has repeatedly said it was going to address
“This is a deeply disappointing judgment by the Supreme Court which will further depress the wages of an already lowly-paid workforce of highly skilled care workers,” commented Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail.
“The social care sector has been facing a funding crisis for the last 20 years. This judgement gives a green light to employers to continue to pay ‘poverty wages’ to a workforce where women are in the majority. Today’s ruling will do nothing to retain staff nor recruit skilled workers to look after the elderly and support disabled people.
“We believe that those staff who sleep-in at their workplace are, in fact, working. Their first and only commitment is to those they care for during the night and they are ‘on call’, and work through the night when required.
“It is now time for the government to step in and change the legislation so care workers receive at least the national minimum wage during the course of the whole night.
“It goes without saying that throughout the pandemic these dedicated key workers have worked under immense pressure, and this should be recognised by the government.
“Boris Johnson promised when he became prime minister in July 2019: ‘We will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve’.
“Now it is time for the prime minister to unveil his so-called ‘clear plan’ and deliver a pay rise for workers in social care, which is made all the more urgent’ by the Supreme Court ruling.
“In the overall scheme of things, this would be a relatively small financial cost compared with the £37bn that the government has spent on the flawed private sector-led ‘test and trace’ system.”
Today’s judgement upholds the Court of Appeal decision in 2018 which found that care worker Ms Tomlinson-Blake was only entitled to the NMW when she was actually carrying out her duties – such as helping a patient or doing other work – and not when she was sleeping or resting.
The national minimum wage will be £8.91 an hour from April 2021.
By Shaun Noble