Labour leader Richard Leonard, Nicola Sturgeon and a care worker.
By Bill Heaney
Former trade union official Richard Leonard, leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, has pleaded with the government to stop paying some of the lowest wages in the country to care workers.
He told the Scottish Parliament: “Our care workers are putting themselves at risk in the front line of the battle against Covid-19 every day and every night of the week, but many of them are among Scotland’s lowest-paid workers.”
Last week, the First Minister said: “We will be looking for quite some time to come at how to properly recognise and reward those on the front line of our health and care services.
Mr Leonard added: “There is action that can be taken now. Last week, the First Minister told me that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport [Jeane Freeman] was developing a death-in-service payment.
“When it was announced, however, it applied only to national health service staff, not to care workers, disappointingly. That is something that the First Minister could and should put right.
“The Scottish Trades Union Congress has called for all key workers, including care workers, to receive a pay rise of £2 an hour.
“Will the First Minister support that call from the STUC, and will she provide the funding for it? Will she see it as an important first step in ending the long-term undervaluation of our care workers?”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon replied: “Death-in-service benefits are important and we want the issue to be properly addressed for staff in the social care sector. The reason why the announcement by the health secretary covered the NHS is a basic but important practical one: the Scottish Government, via the NHS, employs those staff, while the same is not true for the social care workforce.
“We are not in the same position there, and we do not have the same ability to make the decisions for that workforce that the health secretary announced for the national health service.
“That does not mean, however, that we are not working in other ways to address those issues more broadly. I will say this bluntly: I bow to nobody in my admiration, respect and deep gratitude for health and care workers the length and breadth of this country.
“As I have always done—when I was health secretary and since I have been First Minister—I want us to ensure that, as far as we can within the resources that we have, we are rewarding those workers properly.
“I will not labour the point, and this is not to say that they are paid enough at all, but social care workers in Scotland are already paid more than their counterparts in England and Wales.
“As we go forward, we want to value those who have done so much for us, but we do that in discussion and in consultation.
“We discuss issues of pay and reward in partnership with trade unions and employers.
“Right now, we are holding twice-weekly discussions with the STUC and general council members. Jamie Hepburn met representatives of the STUC on Friday, and Jeane Freeman is meeting Unison representatives tomorrow, I think. We are taking forward those discussions in the proper way.
“Let me be clear: we owe a deep debt of gratitude to health and care workers, and it is one that I am certain must be paid, certainly in words and recognition, but in more than words, too.”