‘UNISON means? Confidence, learning and not getting a pay cut’

Careworker Mitsy tells her story

Caseworker Mitsy Harmon-Russell

“I first got involved with UNISON six years ago when they cut our pay from £9 per hour to £6.

“I work with elderly people who have substance abuse problems, dementia, and mental health problems.

“A lot of the residents we’re getting now are highly dependent. Before, we were encouraging people to go out to school, maybe getting them in to classes so that they felt independent, but now the atmosphere is lower.

“Sometimes my shifts are spent with service users: doing personal care, providing lunch, doing their shopping, or sometimes I’m in the office booking appointments with GPs or taking people to hospital, and sometimes I do a sleeping in shift.

“Zero-hour contracts are a problem. It means the service users don’t know the staff that are coming in, because the staff change a lot. Service users are affected. There are people there to support them, it’s just that they don’t know them. They have to deal with strangers more often.

“Some of them have complained, because they have a specific way they want things done and it’s not being done, or they’re being asked about something that the regular staff know exactly how to do.

“The manager has created a list with details of exactly what each resident wants, but the problem is not everybody reads it; they don’t always have time. This creates more work for the permanent staff. There is always more work to do.

“I really like working with people with dementia, but you don’t know what you’re going to experience with each person.

“I care about health and safety at work. A lot of the time working with people with dementia, even though you like working with the individuals, they don’t realise what’s going on and they can slap or hit you. It’s an everyday occurrence, I’m trying to encourage my colleagues that when that happens we need to record it.

“Personally, being involved with UNISON has built my confidence. It’s made me more vocal when I think something needs changing. I like putting the members’ voices forward and getting things changed.

“I enjoy my job, and I also love learning. Since I’ve been working I’ve got a couple of degrees and a masters – a degree in health service management, and one in health promotion. I’ve also got a masters in health promotion, and I’m currently doing a diploma in nursing, but I won’t leave my job.

“Six years ago my branch fought the pay cut and won, and recently we fought for the Living Wage and won.

“I love my UNISON branch, it’s part of the reason I haven’t left my job even as it’s got harder.”