Organising to raise the bar

Community delegates recognise work of Care Workers for Change campaign in defending care services and organising a fragmented and casualised workforce

Care workers for change logo

Union organising among a fragmented and often casualised workforce is not easy, but UNISON’s community service group praised the successes of the Care Workers for Change at its annual conference in Southport today.

In the North West alone there are some 210,000 workers in the sector, and the regional project has had a real impact.

Regional delegate Janet Harrison told conference that, half way through the project, “we do have a voice. We do have rights. We do count.”

Conference noted the campaign’s successes, both in campaigning and raising awareness in the wider community on the need for dignity in care, and in union organising.

In straight trade union numbers, it has seen a membership increase in target employers, with significant membership growth in some areas, including:

  • more than 250 new members across Four Seasons and Methodist Homes;
  • 160-plus in BUPA homes, despite great hostility from the employer;
  • 350-plus across homes in Stockport;
  • growth across a variety of providers in Salford, Sefton, Oldham and Manchester.

And the region has lodged more than 150 national minimum wage claims against 13 employers, as well as supporting 22 national claims.

“Unity is strength,” said Ms Harrison and the campaign has proved it.

Conference recognised the success of this work: it was the first motion on the agenda, and the debate followed a seminar session on the project immediately before conference opened.

It called for the experience and lessons learned from the project to be shared across the union.

As Peter Earnshaw of Blackburn with Darwen branch urged delegates: “Go back to your branches, go back to your regions and promote the social care agenda.”

Another key organising challenge facing the sector, in the North West and across the country, is getting employers to recognise the union.

John Gray, from the service group executive, admitted: “It took me a long time to recognise the importance of union recognition. I used to think the prime issue was individual representation of members.

“But those individuals will only need representation once or twice in their careers. Recognition gives you the right to bargain day in, day out.”