North west council becomes latest to sign up to ethical care

A big change for homecare workers in Knowsley

Knowsley has become the latest council to sign UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter, committing itself and its contracted homecare companies to adequate staffing levels and enough time for workers to care for vulnerable people.

It also means that homecare workers in the north-west England town – who are mostly women – will eventually be paid the living wage, sick pay and for their travel time and sleep-in shifts.

The charter also calls for an end to zero-hours contracts, free training and a clear and accountable process for staff to raise any concerns.

UNISON Knowsley deputy branch secretary James Robinson welcomed the signing on 21 September as “the start of a process”.

He said the union wants “a frank and open discussion about how we can move forward and ensure the signing improves care,” adding that “our branch’s worst casework situations usually come from homecare – there’s lots of bullying and harassment and procedures often aren’t followed.

“Add to that the situation with zero hours contracts and these women often seem quite scared to me – they’re being treated badly, but they’re too nervous to do anything, in case it infringes on the amount of hours they’re given.

“It is going to be a big change. This signing is really a step in the right direction.”

Mr Robinson said the branch recognises that “all the standards cannot be implemented overnight. But the council recently contracted new homecare providers, so now seemed like a great opportunity to get their commitment.

“And the discussion with the workers and employers themselves will set a dialogue in place to implement the improved terms and conditions.”

But in many ways, he hoped the biggest impact of the charter would be on staff retention, because the “elderly and vulnerable people who rely on homecare don’t want to see a different face every day – it might be the only human contact they get.”

Paula Barker, the union’s north west regional convenor, reiterated the point and welcomed the council’s “huge step towards improving working conditions for care workers and in turn, improving the quality of life for the people they look after.”

She added: “UNISON North West is leading the way in highlighting the importance of care work and in fighting to win the pay and conditions they deserve.

“We will continue to work with local authorities across the region to pursue better standards in the sector through our Care Workers for Change campaign.”

  • Lewisham in south London also pledged to sign the charter when the mayor and his cabinet met last week.