Care home fire and rehire threat will drive staff out of the sector

Ministers need to make good on promise to clamp down on unscrupulous bosses

Care workers, registered nurses and residential home staff employed by Bristol-based care company St Monica Trust are to strike after managers threatened them with the sack unless they accept a pay cut, says UNISON today (Saturday). ​

More than 100 staff at four care homes across south ​west of England were issued with an ultimatum in March that unless they agree to a ​reduction in wages – costing them thousands of pounds a year and watering down their sick pay – they’d be fired, says ​the union.

Four in five workers (82%) who took part in the ballot backed the strike, says UNISON. Strikes will be held later this month at care homes across South Gloucestershire, North Somerset, and Bath and North East Somerset – the Russets and Sherwood, John Wills House, Charter House and Garden House Residential.

Despite a national shortage of experienced care staff, managers at the trust are targeting the longest-serving and most experienced workers with the heftiest cuts​. The pay threat is ​effectively pushing workers towards other care employers and possibly from the sector altogether, says UNISON.

Weekend pay rates that top up low salaries are to be cut for senior care workers by an eye-watering 21%, while other staff are being asked to take a 10% hit to their salaries, the union says. Workers stand to lose up to £400 a month, just as the cost-of-living crisis intensifies, UNISON adds.

To add insult to injury, St Monica Trust is advertising for agency staff to fill gaps left by workers who have quit the trust at up to £7 more an hour (£16.81) than the pay of the threatened permanent staff (£9.80), UNISON says.

The severity of the pay cuts and the impact on employees​ – and those they care for – has led families of the elderly residents to add their support for staff, says UNISON.

They have set up groups to petition trust managers to reverse their decision and do more to keep staff who dedicate themselves to caring for their loved ones, UNISON adds. Families have also had to pay increased fees for the care of their relatives.

St Monica Trust’s fire and rehire threat comes after business minister Paul Scully promised to clamp down on the disgraceful practice in March, UNISON says. Instead of an outright ban, the government chose the softer option of imposing a statutory code that would only fine dodgy employers. Last month ministers shelved an employment bill that would have better protected workers against unscrupulous bosses, the union says.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea says: “It’s ludicrous that St Monica Trust is driving out experienced staff when ​the UK is in the ​grip of a care staffing crisis.

“Some workers have been with the trust for decades. To threaten them with the sack if they don’t agree to ​these savage cuts is ​both short-sighted and cruel. Managers’ claims that some staff will receive a wage increase under the plans pits colleague against colleague, worsening an already toxic environment. All staff deserve to be paid fairly.

“​Across the care sector, employees are leaving for better-paid, lower-stress jobs in retail and hospitality. It’s not hard to see why when they​’re treated so shabbily.

“The trust must reverse ​its decision now. The government also needs to make good on its promise to clamp down on fire and rehire, backing up its words with decisive action.”

Notes to editors:
– A relative of a trust resident said: “The way staff are being treated is an utter disgrace​. The ​trust is treating staff with contempt. It’s clear ​it doesn’t understand what a skilled job they do. The ​care workers have gone over and above to provide wonderful care and their dedication has helped keep my relative safe throughout the pandemic. It makes a real difference to my relative and to me to know they are being looked after by a dedicated team they know.”
– A care worker threatened with the sack said: “If I sign the new contract I’ll lose £2,400 a year and I can’t afford that, especially when the cost of food and fuel are going up. I’m already cutting back on food and I can’t remember the last time I bought new clothes. Last year we received a 1% pay rise and we swallowed that because of the impact of Covid. This year we expected a wage rise, but instead we’ve been asked to take a massive pay cut. I will stay and fight the trust, but if we lose, I’ll leave a job that I’ve loved for more than 10 years.”
– Another care worker said: “I’ve worked for the trust for 20 years​. A lot of staff are already leaving for less stressful jobs. The standard of care residents receive is going to suffer. I don’t feel valued​, and the best interests of residents aren’t the number one priority of managers.”
– UNISON’s national conference, which runs from 14 to 17 June at the Brighton Centre will be discussing ways to tackle the crisis in social care including the creation of a national care service.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.