The Fight to Support Care Workers in Leicester

While profiting from supporting the needs of the vulnerable in Leicester, care provider “Help at Home” seems far less concerned with caring for their own employees, many of whom suffer on low pay, on zero hour contracts. This exploitation of their workers seems at odds with the companies glossy feelgood vision of themselves. As their web site explains:

Our ethos — Passion for Independence, Respect for Choice — runs through every aspect of our business and is embodied in the high quality homecare we provide to service users, delivered through outstanding training and professionalism, extended support teams, regular service plan reviews and open communications channels.

“Help at Home’s” commitment to extracting maximum profits from their hard-working staff is not too surprising given that until relatively recently it was owned by British private equity firm Sovereign Capital. A firm which was founded in 2001 by Lord Nash, the current Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, a dubious figure who is currently embroiled with an ongoing attempt to privatise Uplands Junior School here in Leicester.

In December 2013, City & County Healthcare (which is the UK’s fourth-largest domiciliary care provider) and which owns “Help at Home” was then handed over to another private equity profiteer called Graphite Capital. Again, zero hour contracts continue to be an integral part of Graphite’s profit-driven interest in health care provision. Yet they like to pretend that as a profit hungry private equity firm they are still committed to the common good. For example Graphite Capital boast of their commitment to:

Sustainability, taking into consideration every dimension of how the business operates in the social, cultural and economic environment with a view to formulating strategies that foster longevity through transparency and employee development.

To help redress the ongoing exploitation of care workers across the country, in 2012 UNISON published a report calling upon local Council’s to vow to support their unions Ethical Care Charter.

ethical care

Although more than a little late off the mark, on April 3, 2014, at Leicester City Council’s “Domiciliary Care Review,” the minutes of the meeting noted: “it was reported that the UNISON Ethical Care Charter, which had previously been cited as a possible helpful benchmark, could be made available” to members of the Adult Social Care Scrutiny Commission. The following meeting then agreed that “The commission felt that the council should sign up to this and also encourage providers to do the same whilst acknowledging that this couldn’t be enforced.”

Moving on to September 2014, the Labour Council finally responded to the Labour Party’s scrutiny commission in a report authored by the City Mayor’s director of care services and commissioning, Tracie Rees, who herself earns some £80,000 a year.  Her November report demonstrated the unwillingness of our Labour Council to meet even the minimal demands laid down in UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter.

Thus Mrs Rees’ wrote: “Whilst the Council has not formally signed up to the Charter the majority of the principles have been adopted by the Authority.” So what she was saying was that they could not actually support the charter! To take a couple of examples: in response to the charters demand that “Those homecare workers who are eligible must be paid statutory sick pay,” Mrs Rees wrote:

“It is a requirement of the contract for employers to be compliant with the employment legislation. As over 25,000 hours of care are delivered each week it is not possible to assess the eligibility of each worker. However, this is something that could be considered as part of the re-procurement exercise for 2016.”

Thus care workers will need to wait to 2016 for a decision to be made as to whether a Labour council will “consider” making sure that workers who are eligible are paid statutory sick pay. This is outrageous!

On the issue of zero hour contracts, which the UNISON charter suggests should “not be used in place of permanent contracts,” all Mrs Rees can say is, “Whilst this type of contract is not illegal, it is something that will be considered as part of the re-procurement exercise for 2016.”

As a member of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) I believe that Leicester City Council should immediately sign up to support UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter, as numerous local authorities around the country have already done. Fighting for fair pay for a fair days work is a fundamental principle that must be backed by any electoral party seeking to represent ordinary people.

A vote for TUSC in the coming elections, is a vote for an organization that is committed to supporting the TUC’s demand to increase the minimum wage to £10 an hour, and for it then to rise in line with inflation or wages, whichever is higher. And secondly, to scrapping zero hour contracts, and fighting for guaranteed hours and full employment rights for all.

Further Information

Minutes from the November 2014 Adult Social Care Scrutiny Commission meeting which discussed Mr Rees’ shocking report noted that: “Concern was raised in relation to zero hour contracts and members queried whether there was anything else the council could do to ensure this practice ceased.” The so-called Scrutiny Commission were then assured that they would have to wait until 2016 to find out. The minutes also record that:

Concern was raised in relation to zero hour contracts and members queried whether there was anything else the council could do to ensure this practice ceased. It was recognised that this would be currently unaffordable, but assurances were sought and in addition, the necessary budget planning was needed. The Deputy City Mayor [Rory Palmer] responded that it would cost approximately £10m if the living wage was to be paid for externally contracted Adult Social Care services. This was a national issue and what was really needed to address the problem was for the government to provide for a properly funded health and social care system.

This of course coming from a Labour Council that has just voted to top up the amount of money they keep in the bank to £56 million; money that arguably should be spent right now to pay Leicester workers fairly!

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