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STUC Congress 2024 Care workers need action now

Despite several inquiries and reviews, conditions for social care workers in Scotland are stagnating instead of improving — we need state intervention to deliver the long overdue improvements, writes LILIAN MACER

IT HAS been five years since the Fair Work Convention’s (FWC) inquiry into social care on behalf of the STUC and the findings were published. Since then we have had a pandemic, the Scottish government’s own independent review into adult social care chaired by Derek Feeley (2021), and three years of working groups, but little or no progress for the workers.

Both the FWC and Feeley report agreed the gains made in 2016 and 2017 in implementing the Scottish living wage as a minimum for care workers across Scotland in adult social care, then ensuring the implementation of that across even the most reluctant of employers was a significant achievement.

However, both inquiries collected powerful testimony from the workers that paying the living wage alone would not solve the systemic issues facing the social care workforce of insecure contracts, poor shift notice, short staffing, and undervaluation of the work of care. Pay and the terms and conditions of care workers must change.

Post-pandemic and the care sector in Scotland has a crisis of recruitment. When Aldi pays just under £13 per hour while care workers are getting £10.90 for a job that leaves them exhausted both physically, mentally, and emotionally, where the demands of the job are constant due to short staff or poor funding.

Sectoral bargaining and ethical commissioning could be the method of delivering fair work in the care sector. Almost every pound spent is paid for by public funds, three years later painfully slow progress has been eclipsed by a significant step backwards.

The plan to implement sick pay, maternity and paternity pay was agreed upon at the end of 2022, the implementation was slow and then in September unbeknown to the members of the workstream the government took £38 million allocated to improvements in sick pay, paternity and maternity and redistributed it.

This became known as the missing millions. Add to that the £70m allocation that was withdrawn in the 2024 budget.

The 20 per cent profits accumulated from the private providers in the sector (£216m in 2021 and 2022 alone) plus those unscrupulous charitable employers who hoard funds, for instance, the non-union Richmond Fellowship Scotland, which receives 98 per cent of funding to provide social care services to local authorities but sits on reserves of £58m. Public funding is being poured into a leaky bucket rather than care workers’ pay packets.

Add those figures up and you have a substantial resource where instead of using the money available to improve terms for the workforce, money pours from the sector into profit, reserves, or is redistributed to other budgets. After three years of failed progress social care workers and those who rely on these vital services desperately need the Scottish government to change course.

The employers within the sector who have made progress on fair work, with decent sick pay arrangements, respectful working conditions and rotas notice it has become harder and harder to survive.

They are under financial strain, and they need the Scottish government to intervene and fund not only fair work conditions but significantly improved pay. Or else the consequences of the Scottish government’s Fair Work Action Plan three years on will have been to make social care work less fair.

The government can encourage or punish, and use a carrot, or a stick, to enforce fair work conditions must be a fundamental part of implementing improvement that employers are required to apply because the evidence shows that non-unionised employers will not voluntarily improve.

On April 25 Unison will join our sister unions as care affiliates in the STUC, Unite and the GMB, and care workers will take their fight to the Scottish Parliament and demand that the Scottish government:

• Explains the “missing millions” debacle

• Restores the £38m funding for the budget line.

• Commits funds for sectoral bargaining.

• Delivers £15 per hour for care workers now.

They need every ounce of support our movement can bring.


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