Care workers fight for rights

Submitted by AWL on 23 September, 2020 - 10:28 Author: Alison Brown
Sage strike, UVW

On 18 September are workers at Sage Nursing Home in north London, primarily migrant workers, organising through the United Voices of World union, threatened to strike for a pay claim of £12 an hour to give equality with NHS terms and conditions.

Another important struggle for care workers lies in a successful legal case, taken by Unison against three domiciliary care companies, over time for travel counting as working time under the minimum wage legislation. A victory for this group of women zero-hours workers opens the door for action on this issue across the home care sector.

Workers in the care sector are starting to get organised. The effects of the second wave of Covid in the sector are likely to make the issues even more acute. Solidarity from the rest of the labour movement should be a priority.

The number of positive cases within care homes has quadrupled since the start of September.

Care workers have expressed horror at the recent instruction to prepare for an increase in discharges from hospitals, including Covid-positive cases. The shambolic discharge of patients with unknown infection status in spring to poorly prepared care homes, was previously blamed for bringing Covid into the 43% of homes that reported outbreaks.

In the spring and summer English care homes reported over 15,000 Covid related deaths of residents, and by mid May 131 care workers had died.

In theory the sector is better prepared this time around. The government have promised testing for all within 48 hours prior to discharge. However, delays in test results are already widely reported. Government guidance also advises 14 day isolation for all new care home residents and states care homes "should not accept admissions if they cannot safely cohort or isolate". Many care workers have said this underestimates the difficulties of isolating people with dementia and may be ignored by some cash-stretched businesses.

The current figures show the infection rate is rising among care workers in advance of residents, suggesting that community-acquired infection rather than hospital-acquired infection is key. In this context the importance of full pay for self-isolation for workers is an ongoing priority.

The government has announced a continuation of the "infection control fund". The latest guidance repeats that funding should, firstly, ensure care workers only work in one setting and, secondly, receive their normal wages while isolating in line with government guidelines.

Yet the Safe and Equal campaign has shown many examples where this funding is simply not reaching the pockets of workers, who are, at best, receiving Statutory Sick Pay. The political and trade union campaigning on this issue, like that in Islington and the North West region, must be stepped up.

Unions have reported a significant rise in care worker trade union membership during the pandemic. There is a noticeable increase in workplace organising, with new local and national networks of care worker activists through both traditional and new unions.

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