It’s time to pay up for care

‘It is a fight we must win – it is a fight we will win’

Pay in care – and the community and voluntary sector – has featured in the news a lot over the past year, with accusations over travel time, sleeping-in pay and the minimum wage.

Not surprisingly, it was also an issue that loom large on the agenda at UNISON’s community service group conference in Southport this weekend.

The weather may have meant reduced conference with many delegates – including president Margaret McKee, the whole of the Northern Ireland delegation, all but one Scottish delegate, and many others – unable to travel to the venue.

But that did not lessen the value or passion of the debates – especially on the many motions dealing with pay and related subjects, including funding.

Delegates called for work across the union, including liaising with UNISON’s local government and health structures, to campaign for  proper funding for social care, whether directly provided or commissioned from community and voluntary organisation, so that staff can be properly paid and vulnerable people properly cared for.

Conference also called for sector-wide collective bargaining, decent housing for housing association and voluntary sector staff, an end to the pay cap and for the union-wide Pay Up Now! campaign to specifically include, and appeal to, workers across the community, voluntary and housing sectors.

In particular the debate on the hot topic of proper pay for workers’ required to sleep-in when providing care for the vulnerable got members up to the rostrum.

Owen Adams from Barnsley told conference he’d been doing sleep-ins for 15 years, and being paid just £3.80 an hour for 15 years.

But, he asked conference, “when you go on holiday, do you pay less for the hours you’re asleep.”

A recent court said employers paying less than the minimum wage rates for sleep-ins were breaking the law.

But charities providing care services are resisting having to pay the bills for unlawful underpayment, saying it will drive them under, and the government is lending a sympathetic ear, giving them longer deadlines to settle.

Winning the payments care workers are owed “is going to be a long and difficult campaign,” Kevin Jackson said for the service group executive. But “it is a fight we must win; it is a fight we will win.”

At the same time, he said, “we need to ensure that a future Labour government funds councils. so our charities don’t go out of business.”