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Unions attack Government and 'minimum wage cheats' in home care 'sleep-in' row

29-Sep-17
Article By: Melissa McAlees

The Government has announced a one-month suspension of minimum wage enforcement for ‘sleep-in’ shifts while it establishes whether the sector needs further support.

Credit: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock.com

Organisations, including charities, had previously been given until 2 October to agree back pay for 'sleep in' care staff following an employment tribunal decision, but according to Unison’s general secretary Dave Prentis, the “extended amnesty is a green light for dodgy employers to carry on paying illegal wages without fear of ever being punished.”

Unions have also warned that the sector could be ‘seriously affected’ and could lead to some charities ending their involvement in providing services.

A Government spokesman said: "We recognise the vital role social care providers play in supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our society and equally that social workers should be paid fairly for the important work they do.

"This suspension will help to minimise disruption to the sector as we seek to ensure workers receive the wages they are owed while we establish whether the industry needs any further support."

'Providers and the people they care for need certainty'

Following two tribunal cases brought by care staff in 2015 and 2016, the Government's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) changed the guidance last October to state care organisations must pay the National Minimum Wage (NMW) throughout the worker’s shift, meaning overnight care workers on ‘sleep-ins’ would earn the minimum wage including when they are asleep, rather than a flat-rate allowance.

Care providers say it is the most vulnerable people living at home, particularly those with learning disabilities, who will suffer if providers ‘buckle under the financial strain’ of a huge wage bill.

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, a representative body for independent providers of adult social care, remains ‘deeply concerned’ and is ‘disappointed’ that the Government has not yet made a decision.

“We will continue to work with the Government during this extension period with the aim of seeing back pay liability fully funded,” he said. “However, we must see this issue resolved…providers and the people they care for need certainty.”

'It's time ministers got tough'

According to Unison’s general secretary Dave Prentis, the “extended amnesty is a green light for dodgy employers to carry on paying illegal wages without fear of ever being punished.”

He said: “No government or employer should be above the law. By suspending enforcement, we have grave concerns ministers may well have been acting unlawfully and using powers they don’t have.

“It’s time ministers got tough with the minimum wage cheats, give low-paid care staff a decent pay rise and put more money into the care sector.”

GMB, the union for care workers, has also criticised the Government's announcement that NMW enforcement in the care sector will be suspended for a further month and says additional funding is needed to address the ‘cash crisis’ in social care.

'Government is washing its hands of a care sector in crisis'

Sharon Wilde, GMB national officer for care, added: "This disgraceful announcement shows that the Government is washing its hands of a care sector in crisis.

"Care workers perform extremely difficult jobs for very low pay, and ministers are treating with contempt by not enforcing the National Minimum Wage. The average care worker earns just £7.75 an hour - just 25p above the minimum wage, and non-compliance with the law is still endemic in the sector. High turnover rates are already putting staff and patients at risk.

"It's time for ministers to treat care workers with some humanity and put in the additional funding that we so desperately need."

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N Harris

09 Oct 2017 11:22 AM

Care companies pleading poverty is a load of rubbish, the money they aren’t paying for sleep shifts just goes into their profits. My partner was owed £60K in unpaid wages from 19 years of service to a care home which had £250K in the bank – when we approached them for it they just took all the cash out in dividends, sold the business to a phoenix company & left us chasing the liquidator whilst they enjoyed the money !!!!