Care workers continue to be denied the minimum wage

MPs praise UNISON’s campaign to support care workers who are “illegally” under-paid

Employers are continuing to illegally pay home care workers below the national minimum wage, as was outlined in a parliamentary debate on the scandal on Wednesday.

UNISON was singled out for praise by MPs, for its continued defence of workers in the beleaguered sector.

The debate was moved by Labour MP Paul Blomfield, who lamented the fact that, 18 months after the National Audit Office estimated that up to 220,000 home care workers were being illegally paid below the minimum wage, the problem remained.

“It makes a mockery of our national minimum wage legislation,” he said. “Let us be clear – it is a criminal offence knowingly not to pay the national minimum wage.”

MPs also noted that the problem was exacerbated by the number of employers who did not pay care workers for travel time between assignments, with workers effectively “supplementing” their bosses.

Shadow care minister Barbara Keeley voiced her concerns about the funding crisis in social care, noting that many providers were struggling to provide good quality care against the backdrop of years of cuts to local authority budgets for adult social care, and that “the government are not providing funding for their own wage policy.”

Ms Keeley added: “I give credit to UNISON for its work interviewing care workers and finding out in detail the constraints on them, such as having to rush between calls and reduce the amount of time spent with individuals who are socially isolated.

“We are concerned about social isolation among older people, and the fact that there is no time to care.

“Staff sometimes work from 7am until very late in the evening, but they have dead time that they do not get paid for; and they do not get paid for travel time.

“Some low-paid home care assistants and support workers will keep going as long as they feel they are still giving good care. But the advent of zero hours contracts, fee cuts and no payment for travel time… is making it financially prohibitive for some domiciliary care workers to struggle on.”

Another Labour MP, Andrew Smith, said that he fully supported the case being made by UNISON and the Low Pay Commission to use section 12 of the National Minimum Wage Act to require employers to provide workers with a statement showing compliance with the national minimum wage.

And shadow business, innovation and skills minister Yvonne Fovargue thanked UNISON for its briefing on pay and “its long campaign to support workers”.

The Conservatives also had praise for the union.

George Freeman, parliamentary under secretary of state for life sciences, commented: “Opposition members may be surprised to hear me single out and congratulate UNISON … which has done really good work on behalf of workers in the sector.”