Care workers strike against pay cuts

UNISON members in Bath and north east Somerset take action over employers’ ‘work-for-free’ proposals

Some 120 care workers in south-west England are going on strike tomorrow over their employer’s attempt to cut their wages. And they will be staging more two-hour strikes throughout the rest of June.

The strike, by residential care workers in Bath and North East Somerset, runs from 8am on Wednesday 6 June to 8am on Thursday 7 June. It is taking place because their employer is trying to introduce an half-hour unpaid break into their shifts, meaning they would have to choose between working longer hours for the same pay or seeing their wages fall.

Workers who don’t take the unpaid break would be asked to “pay back” the time by working unpaid shifts.

At the moment, many of the staff use additional voluntary ‘bank shifts’ to make ends meet.

Careworker Bernadette points out that for her, “the accrued time would come to 17 shifts a year. Seven shifts on ‘bank’ would give me about £756 extra to pay our bills, to put food on the table or even to help keep a roof over my head.”

Bernadette is a UNISON rep at Sirona, the private company trying to introduce the changes at homes around Bath, Keynsham and Midsomer Norton.

She pointed out that the  other choice facing her and other union members is “to forfeit these unpaid breaks, which are not currently part of my contract, and lose hundreds of pounds a year.

“A lot of my colleagues are worse off than me, as some will ‘owe’ up to 16 shifts back, with the accrued half-hour breaks.”

Their employer, Sirona, is a private company set up by Bath and North East Somerset council, which commissions it to provide residential care. However, the council has cut the amount it pays Sirona to provide the care, leaving it £170,000 short.

The workers who are being asked to shoulder the cost of this change earn just over the national minimum wage of £7.85 an hour.

UNISON organiser John Drake commented: “The care workers have been left with no choice but to go on strike. We’ve negotiated with Sirona for months, but the pay cut is still on the table.

“These staff cannot afford to take a pay cut. Most of them are women, doing the lion’s share of caring in their own homes as well. Extra shifts are unworkable.”

He added that the local council “created Sirona, it pays the firm to provide care services, and it cut Sirona’s funding last year. Council leaders need to take responsibility.”

Find out more about the issue on the UNISON South West site