Zero-hours contracts and below legal minimum wages dominate in private care agencies

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ANALYSIS by the GMB union of figures in the national Skills for Care database reveals that care workers employed in the private sector are three-times more likely to be on zero-hours contracts than workers in the public sector.

Not only do zero-hours contracts run through the private sector social care but their workers earn 17% less than care workers directly employed by local authorities.

On top of this, over half of those employed in the private sector have no relevant social care qualifications compared to less than 20% in the public sector.

Four in ten care workers employed by private care companies pack it in and leave their job every year.

These statistics reveal the acute crisis of social care today and the cost-cutting imposed on professional care workers by the private companies determined to make profits in the face of £7 billion of cuts to social care imposed by the Tories since 2010.

Last year, the Tories were warned by MPs that local authorities are unable to provide ‘only small yearly fee uplifts’ to private contractors due to these cuts and that fee levels ‘are still below the benchmark costs of care’.

To overcome this the privateers have resorted to zero-hours contracts and paying wages far below the legal ‘national living wage’ of £7.83 an hour and refusing to pay the time spent by care workers travelling between appointments.

The public sector union Unison uncovered the fact that over half of councils do not insist that their homecare providers pay travel time.

Under the Care Act of 2014 councils are obliged to ensure private care agencies pay their staff this national living wage, including: ‘Appropriate remuneration for any time spent travelling between appointments.’

It is illegal for care workers’ overall daily pay, including travel time, to amount to less than the minimum wage. However, according to Unison national officer Matt Egan:

‘Many companies do not abide by minimum wage laws, and even those paid extra by councils to remunerate care workers for travel time simply do not do so.’

Even when local authorities do require providers to pay care staff for travel time, many do not check this is actually happening.

Egan said: ‘Some councils are putting it in the contract and asking care providers whether they’re complying with the requirement to pay care workers for their travel time without actually checking pay slips or carrying out workforce surveys.’

Two-thirds of care workers are only paid for their contact time, not time spent travelling between appointments.

The result of this is that care workers are forced to cut short scheduled visits or miss them altogether causing enormous hardship and suffering for those in their care.

The sheer brutality of the treatment of workers in this vital service was underlined in a judgment by the Court of Appeal a year ago which overturned a previous judgment that carers for people suffering from severe disabilities that required them to sleep overnight in case of emergencies were not entitled to the minimum wage for the time they were sleeping!

Instead the judges rule they were only entitled to a paltry £30 flat fee for a ten-hour shift. This judgment was greeted with relief by the private agencies who pleaded that two-thirds of them would go bankrupt if they were forced to pay up.

With the private care agencies paying poverty level wages to ensure their profits, it is the chronically sick and elderly that ultimately pay the price.

Appeals to the Tory government by the unions to increase spending on social care fall on deaf ears. When workers are unable, through age or infirmity, to be efficiently exploited for profit then the capitalist system is quite prepared to see them rot rather than spend money on funding adequate care.

The trade unions must stop appeals to the Tories and mobilise the strength of the working class in kicking them out and going forward to a workers government that will expropriate the privateers and banks and advance to a socialist society that will put an end to the misery inflicted by this bankrupt capitalist system.