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Calls for reform of minimum wage laws affecting care workers

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Written by: Emma Lunn
20/04/2021
Unison and Mencap have written to prime minister Boris Johnson urging him to call an investigation into ‘sleep-in’ pay.

The union and learning disability charity want so-called ‘sleep-in shifts’ – where staff have to stay overnight away from home – to be defined as working time and paid properly.

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the hours employees are asleep don’t have to be paid at minimum wage rates, only the time they are awake and looking after people.

Unison – the biggest union including in social care – and charity Mencap, which is one of the UK’s largest providers of social care services, were on opposing sides during the long-running case.

Mencap contested the case due to the huge back pay bill facing the care sector. But Unison ​backed the case because ​it believes care staff should be paid for all the hours they’re at work.

But in the letter to Johnson, both organisations stated they were “united in the same vision” of a “properly funded care sector”. They say: “paying staff decent wages is a major part of this” and “fair pay means care providers can retain the skilled workforce that’s essential for excellent care”.

Unison and Mencap are urging Johnson to ask the Low Pay Commission to investigate the issue of sleep-in pay and reassess the status of shifts so “the entirety of these” are treated as working time.

Both say the Supreme Court judgment was a “huge blow to care workers” and warn it could be seen by some providers and ​council care commissioners as “an opportunity to cut costs including wages”. They predict the result could be “even fewer recruits joining a sector already suffering from thousands of vacancies”.

Care workers are already among the lowest paid in the country and some earn less per hour than the average retail assistant. Sleep-in workers are expected to respond to the people they support at any time and at a moment’s notice during the night.

Christina McAnea, Unison general secretary, said: “The crisis in social care is a betrayal of the most vulnerable in society. The whole sector has been broken for years and the government has ignored this. Proper wages for every hour staff work are a key part of ​much-needed reform.

“The fact Unison and Mencap are united on this issue shows the strength of feeling ​across the care sector that enough is enough. ​Ministers must take heed and act now.”

Edel Harris, Mencap chief executive, said: “Care workers are among the lowest paid in society, yet they do vital, highly-skilled work supporting our loved ones. They deserve better pay. Boris Johnson promised to fix social care – paying fairly for overnight support is the first step.”

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