Scandal of care workers whose hourly rate leaves them with just £3 an hour
By Bill Heaney
Scandalous treatment is meted out to care workers in Inverclyde, the local authority that SNP-run West Dunbartonshire Council has got into bed with in the matter of shared services.
West Dunbartonshire has been looking at linking roads and refuse collection services to name but two which are earmarked for mergers with the Greenock-based council.
This is being processed under a tripartite committee made up of senior managers from Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire and East Dunbartonshire.
The Greenock Telegraph last week published the story which follows which highlights the fact that care workers across the river are being ripped off by private companies providing care for the elderly.
These care workers employed in Inverclyde allege they are working for as little as £3 an hour and have accused the council, which hires the companies which employ them, of ‘turning a blind eye’ to their plight.
In a series of shock claims, staff employed by external care providers, who have contracts with the local authority, say they end up earning less than the national living wage because of ‘unfair working practices’.
Many who are not paid travel time between visits or fuel costs, also have to pay for their own mobile phones, which they need to do their job, and some are put on standby without pay.
The Telegraph has been told care workers are so desperate that they pack in as many visits as possible, spending as little as just five minutes with some vulnerable clients.
Inverclyde health and social care partnership (HSCP) has signed up to an ethical charter promising to deliver on fair working practices, but carers say they are ignoring the behaviour of contractors.
These practises were today flagged up to the trade unions representing care workers in West Dunbartonshire by UNITE convener, Margaret Wood, pictured right.
One carer, who works with one of external providers operating in Greenock, said: “Inverclyde Council is aware of what is going on and is turning a blind eye. We get paid £8.75 per hour if we manage four 15-minute visits an hour. But that is impossible.
“If we only manage two visits within that hour, which is common, we only get paid for thirty minutes, not an hour, because we do not get paid for the travel time between visits.
“This means we only get paid £4.37 per hour, for an eight hour shift this means earning £34.96.
“From this we also need to deduct our travel costs, which averages £10 per day in fuel.
“So that by the end of the day we are earning £3.12 per hour.
“We also need to pay for and use our own phones which is how we get the work.”
Inverclyde Council sets out a minimum visit time of 15 minutes but there are questions about how this is fulfilled.
A source said: “Their own staff do the same number of visits as us but get paid travelling time and costs, so earn the full rate.
“To manage even three fifteen minute visits, we would have to break the rules and cut visits down to a flying five-minute visit – which sometimes we do, and clients aren’t getting the care they need.”
Terms and conditions have also been highlighted as a problem.
The whistle-blower added: “Even though they say you are on a permanent contract, what you are is permanently on standby, waiting for clients. This is the equivalent of a zero-hour contract. The council know all about it and are turning a blind eye.”
Councillor Colin Jackson says he has been approached by a number of concerned support workers and raised the issue at a recent health and social care committee meeting.
He said: “There is a still a lot of work to do with external providers to make sure that all care workers get paid decent travel time and that 15-minute visits are not used.”
Another care worker says that staff are given a huge number of clients and only given a ‘very short’ space of time to deal with their often complex needs.
Scottish Care, which represents private care providers, has launched a blistering attack on Inverclyde Council and says the local authority has effectively forced its members to keep current practices in place.
Chief executive Dr Donald Macaskill, left, said: “We believe that you cannot have fair work unless you have fair commissioning.
“The recent work of the Fair Work Convention highlights that the way in which we purchase and buy care is rotten to the core.”
Commissioning contracts or the tendering process is at the heart of West Dunbartonshire Council’s troubles concerning the procurement process in regard to the allocation of contracts.
The chairman of the Tendering Committee in West Dunbartonshire is Cllr Jim Finn who has been ill in recent times and who had to leave last month’s Council budget meeting less than an hour before it began. He wasn’t there to vote with the SNP administration of which he is part.
Scottish Care’s Mr Macaskill added: ““The current system run by local authorities, like Inverclyde, treats in-house workers in a fair manner, but treats external providers and their staff in a massively unequal, unjust and unfair way.
“It is a system that prioritises getting more for less and which continues to devalue social care work and the mainly women who work in it.”
It was with a view to getting more for less (economies of scale) that Health and Social Care Partnerships were introduced by the SNP government as part of their austerity programme which has seen across the board cuts in council services.
The Scottish Care chief added: “It is absolutely hypocritical for a local authority like Inverclyde to treat one group of workers in one way and to demean the work of those others whose organisations it commissions but does not directly employ.
“Inverclyde comes very low down the league table for properly funding external social care and support and it is deeply unfortunate that workers suffer as a result.
“The degree to which we value workers, whether directly employed or commissioned, the degree to which we properly finance social care is the mark of any real community – and that includes Inverclyde where it would seem fairness does not happen.”
But Inverclyde HSCP defended their commissioning process.
A spokesperson said: “We take fair working practices and the obligations within the ethical care charter very seriously.
“We recently put these services out to tender and a key part of that process was actually setting a minimum price.
“The point behind this was to make sure that private care providers would receive enough money to be able to pay their staff the Scottish Living Wage and meet the obligations of the ethical care charter.
“The minimum price was arrived at through discussion with the private care providers.
“We closely monitor every aspect of the contractual commitments made by our partner providers and we take action if they do not comply with the conditions.
“We currently pay £89.79 for sleepovers and the rate from 1 April will be £93.07.
” We are also working hard to end the practice of 15 minute visits which are difficult to deliver and which don’t provide a significant benefit for clients.”
And what are the chances of Inverclyde’s social care policies washing up on the other side of the Clyde in West Dunbartonshire?
The Council here refuses to answer questions from The Democrat.