Public service staff at ‘tipping point’ over unpaid overtime and low pay, says UNISON

Public services support staff – including teaching assistants, hospital porters and police community support offers (PCSOs) – are doing more than 40 million hours of unpaid overtime a year*, says a report from UNISON published today (Monday).

The figure is the equivalent of 25,000 extra public service staff working full time. It highlights how far workers are prepared to go to keep services running efficiently and the impact of years of job cuts. This is despite the intolerable pressures they face as a result of government-led cutbacks, according to the report We Can’t Go on Like This.

The findings are from an analysis of employment data by think tank the Smith Institute. It warns that staff have reached a ‘tipping point’, which could have a knock-on impact on services and local communities.

The report commissioned by UNISON, also includes a survey of nearly 1,000 support staff across the UK working in healthcare (37%), education (35%), local government (19%), the police and justice (4%), and other public services (5%).

More than two in five (44%) of the survey respondents, who include auxiliary nurses, cleaners and caretakers, say they are doing unpaid overtime most weeks.

Some are taking on the duties of colleagues who have been made redundant, while others are working beyond their pay grade without the necessary training, according to the report.

It highlights that the vast majority (77%) believe they are working harder than a year ago, yet more than a third (35%) say cutbacks means they are much less productive than before.

Staff feel demoralised and demotivated as a direct result of austerity because of increased workloads, having to do jobs they are unfamiliar with, and because their managers are unsupportive, according to the findings.

As a result, nearly seven in ten (68%) respondents especially those in health (75%) and local government (72%), believe the services they help run are getting worse in delivering for the public. Some even believe the situation is so bad that there is a safety risk especially to patients in the NHS.

The crisis in the workplace for support staff means morale at work is at rock bottom according to four in five (80%) of those who responded, largely because they feel undervalued by their managers. Three in ten (30%) are actively looking to leave their jobs, and another third (33%) are considering doing so.

The report says that workforce cuts have been ‘disproportionately targeted’ at support staff. This includes those working with vulnerable people with learning disabilities or mental health issues.

UNISON is calling on the government to recognise the important role of frontline staff in delivering public services by investing properly in the jobs needed to deliver high quality results.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Support staff such as healthcare assistants and catering workers are among the lowest paid in public services. All too often they’re overlooked by politicians, despite the vital jobs they do.

“It’s no wonder they feel overworked and undervalued. Many are facing intolerable pressures because of cutbacks, which have triggered staff shortages.

“The government must commit to funding the jobs needed to guarantee safe, high quality services. A failure to act will undermine standards further and weaken public confidence further still.”

Notes to editors:
We Can’t Go on Like This can be accessed here.
The support staff survey was carried out in spring 2018 and is based on responses from 905 individuals. The survey is part of UNISON’s on going public service champions campaign.
-* This figure is based on an analysis of the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (January to March 2017) by the Smith Institute. They combined the total unpaid overtime hours for staff in a range of jobs including administrators, secretarial workers and teaching assistants. – Case studies (names have been changed)
– Selina, 47, is an information support officer working for a council in the North West. She says: “I believe in the work I’m doing. But me and my colleagues all work over the hours we’re supposed to.
“My daughter needs a new bed and I desperately need new work clothes. But every week I look at my bank account and feel despondent.”
– Jeremy, 52, is a senior healthcare assistant at a mental health unit in the South West. He says: “I’ve a real passion for the work I do. But I feel like I’d walk out tomorrow for a job that paid me more money.
“I’d leave the NHS at the drop of a hat but with my pension and everything I’m totally trapped.”

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