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Care firm 'bullied' staff to accept new conditions

2023-06-01 17:25:44 source:CBS News author:Press center 1 click:881order

A care home firm has been accused of bullying staff into accepting new terms and conditions or face being fired.

A union said changes being imposed by Shaw Healthcare were "Dickensian" and hit some of the lowest paid workers.

The company said most staff had accepted the terms, which it said were essential to ensure its contract with Powys council remained "viable".

One worker said she had no choice but to accept the changes or risk losing her job.

The trade union Unison said a solution would be to introduce a national care service.

Shaw Healthcare, in Powys, was given the contract to run 12 care homes in the county in 2019 after previous owner Bupa was threatened with legal action after announcing plans to sell them to another company.

"It was sign or be fired," said Linda, not her real name. She asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing her job.

She accepted Shaw Healthcare's new terms and conditions but claimed the changes were affecting her pay.

"We're paid £10.90 an hour at the moment," she said.

"If you're on a seven-hour shift, that's now a seven-and-a-half-hour shift, and you've got to have a break that's unpaid.

"And if you don't get that break you're effectively working for £10.70 or so an hour.

"For £10.90, I could go and sit on the till at Morrisons or Tesco's without the responsibility of other people's lives in my hands." 

Shaw Healthcare is removing paid lunch breaks for staff and will start charging staff for meals at work. 

The half-hour break will be replaced with two paid 15 minute handovers when shifts start and end.

The firm's regional operational director, Abigail Katsande, said: "We have been in consultation for the last three months regarding proposed changes that aligned Powys' residents' wellbeing in line with the rest of Shaw, and best care practice in the UK."

She said: "Previously, employees were paid for lunch breaks but not for handovers of residents' care for 15 minutes either side of their daily shifts.

"Our proposals, to which over 99% of carers have agreed to, introduce this practice as contractual rather than optional."

The new paid handover will see staff start 15 minutes earlier to get an update about residents they care for from the team working the previous shift.

They will then be paid for an extra 15 minutes at the end of their shift to provide the next shift with the same information.

Shaw said it was standard practice in the NHS and considered best practice in terms of providing elderly care.

The company said cooked meals at its care homes were heavily subsidised so staff only paid a small amount for them.

The company also said it paid staff the "real living wage", which is now 48p an hour more than the national living wage. 

It also said every full-time employee receives tax-free bonuses of £1,250.

"They are running the business," said Linda.

"They are also looking after their service users and they should be looking after the staff because you can't run a business if you haven't got the staff to run it for you."

Unison has written to Powys council about what it called "bullying tactics" which left its members forced to accept changes to their contracts or face being fired and rehired.

In that letter, Unison's Regional Organiser Mark Turner said he was disappointed that "Dickensian approaches are still being used".

Unison said care workers had been forced to agree to new terms and conditions which "erode" what it said were some of the few things making some of the lowest paid jobs attractive.

Powys council said it had received the letter and will respond in due course.

Unison has also written to the Welsh government's deputy minister for social care, Julie Morgan, to argue that the care commissioning process has failed and that the need to generate profit is a barrier to improved care services in Wales.

"If they wanted to value the social care workforce, which is its main resource, they could add hours, paid hours, to do effective handovers to make their provision more effective," said Unison regional secretary, Dominic MacAskill.

"They could do that without taking away the benefits which makes working for that company a bit more attractive," he said.

"These are low-paid workers who have very poor terms and conditions and to diminish them is not the way forward."

In February 2022, Ms Morgan set up an expert group to look at the steps towards creating a national care service as part of Welsh Labour's co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru.

In November 2022, Ms Morgan told the Senedd in a written statement that the panel had made a series of "far-ranging recommendations" which would be "properly considered and discussed, particularly in the context of the very difficult financial situation".

Despite signing up to the new terms and conditions, Linda said she was looking for somewhere else to work.

She said: "I love my job, I love my residents, and the people I work with are absolutely fantastic.

"But that's about the only thing that's keeping me there at this moment in time."

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