Category Archives: UNISON – Latest

Extra council funding needed at tourist ‘hot spots’, as ‘Dominic Cummings effect’ takes hold

The ‘Dominic Cummings ‘ effect, which contributed to thousands flocking to beaches on the south coast, is piling further pressure on already strained local government finances and resources, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Friday 26 June).

Unite, which represents 100,000 local government workers, called on ministers to give councils in tourist ‘hot spot’ areas, where visitors are likely to head to the beaches and popular natural attractions, additional funding to cover the cost of the extra security, policing, enforcing parking regulations, and refuse collections that such crowds generate.

Unite blamed the peripatetic travels of Boris Johnson’s top advisor Dominic Cummings around the north east of England during the height of lockdown for contributing to the impression that the guidance to combat Covid-19 no longer applied.

Unite national officer for local government Jim Kennedy said: “The unnecessary journeys that the prime minister’s top aide Dominic Cummings undertook at the height of the lockdown has contributed to the impression that the lockdown rules can be ignored with impunity.

“Yesterday, we saw the result of the Cummings ‘effect’ with thousands of people flocking to the beaches which has put council services under renewed pressure when they are already, in some areas, at breaking point.

“There were reports of security guards being called to protect refuse workers doing their duty. We won’t tolerate abuse and violence to our members.

“Our traffic warden and car park attendant members were affected as there were two hour queues for legal car parking which resulted in illegal parking and unprecedented demands to ensure road safety.

“Unite is calling for extra government funding to councils in those areas, which are tourist ‘hot spots’, to help  pay for  services under pressure, such as refuse collection and security, caused by the influx of Britons taking ‘staycations’.

“Councils will also need to spend more money on publicity and marketing to say what is and isn’t allowed in their areas, and which attractions are open.

 “Unite is not trying to restrict people’s enjoyment, but to be aware of the advice of England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty who has said  social distancing remains vital, otherwise the rates of Covid-19 infection will rise again.”

A national care service is the only way to prevent more deaths

Fundamental reform is needed to create a system fit for the future

The pandemic has exposed the fault lines in the social care system, which requires substantial reform if its many structural, financial and operational weaknesses are to be tackled, says UNISON in a new strategy document released today (Wednesday).

Care After Covid: A Vision for Social Care sets out how the fragmented, crisis-riven sector could be transformed into a national care system. One that the union says could cope with the day-to-day challenges of caring for vulnerable people and be better prepared for a future health emergency of the same severity as the current pandemic.

Improved regulation and government oversight, better staff pay, stringent UK-wide professional standards, robust workers’ rights, and strategic long-term investment could help create a resilient care system that resembles the NHS more, says UNISON.

Significant emergency funding is crucial to protect the elderly and disabled from Covid-19 and any future crises, says the document.

Prior to the pandemic, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee called for an immediate investment of £8 billion in the sector. But far more will be needed before the end of the current Parliament if a care system is to be created that’s fit for purpose, says UNISON.

The extra cash should be used to invest in the workforce and fund local councils. This is so they have the resources and expertise to step in and take over care homes – if providers go bust – and run care services themselves.

In future, social care must become an important economic sector providing high-quality, well-paid jobs and no longer seen as a drain on the public purse. It has the potential to be part of the solution for local economies that have lost jobs because of the virus, says UNISON.

Care staff must be paid at least the real living wage – currently £10.75 in London, £9.30 an hour elsewhere – and there must be a new standard employment contract that includes sick pay, hours to be worked and payment for all the time they’re on duty.

Currently, many care workers are on zero-hours contracts, with little job security and without paid holidays or sick pay. Staff working out in the community and moving between care appointments often aren’t paid for their travel time, while some providing overnight care are not paid for every hour of those shifts, despite being on call.

The pandemic has exposed the poverty pay of care staff who earn so little some have had to choose between feeding their families or risking their health, and that of those they care for. Many couldn’t afford to take time off to self-isolate. Workers have been forced to make ends meet on statutory sick pay of just £95.85 a week and food banks, says UNISON.

UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Social care is the forgotten frontline, but the time for talking is over. For too long the care system has been weighted towards price and profit. Nothing less than a national care service will suffice.

“Vulnerable people have been pushed from pillar to post as owners and care providers jostle for a bigger slice of the pie.

“Underpaid, undervalued and undermined staff are at breaking point. The Covid-19 crisis has further exposed just how desperately the care sector needs reform.

“The NHS must be its inspiration. Any reform must build on the few positives to come from the pandemic – that care staff are highly skilled people, providing quality care, despite the many challenges they face.

“Never again should there be vulnerable people dying in their thousands in care homes because of poor planning, ignorance, or the relentless pursuit of profits. The government must introduce fundamental reform to create a system fit for the future, providing care for everyone who needs it.”

Care After Covid: A Vision for Social Care makes a series of recommendations, including:

· Everyone working in the care sector should undergo a minimum level of training to drive forward professionalisation and raise standards.

· Care workers must be added to the government’s shortage occupation list. Many are from overseas but proposed immigration changes will prevent anyone earning less than £25,600 from coming here.

· Local authorities responsible for sourcing care for local residents should only purchase services from providers that pay their taxes, recognise unions, provide staff with standard work contracts and pay at least the real living wage.

· There must be a move away from the complex commissioning model to a national care system, based on the NHS, where care is free at the point of need.

Ambulance staff in Northern Ireland to receive backdated pay boost, says UNISON

Hundreds of workers will see pay bands lifted

Hundreds of ambulance workers in Northern Ireland are to receive a pay rise amounting to several thousand pounds each, following an extensive period of campaigning and negotiation by UNISON.

Members of the union voted overwhelmingly to accept the pay offer from the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service HSC Trust, which will be backdated to the beginning of 2017.

The change affects emergency medical technicians (EMT), paramedics and rapid response paramedics (RRP) who will see their pay bands upgraded within the Agenda for Change pay structure.

EMTs will move from band four to five, while paramedics and RRPs will move from band five to six.

The changes will benefit the affected ambulance staff to the tune of £7 million, which includes the backdated payments.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This pay rise will make a real difference to ambulance workers, recognising their skills and experience.

“It’s the second big victory this year for UNISON in Northern Ireland after NHS workers were given pay parity with staff in other parts of the UK. Congratulations are due for securing this latest agreement.”

UNISON Northern Ireland’s head of bargaining Anne Speed said: “Ambulance staff are at the heart of delivering care to patients and their families.

“They fully deserve respect and recognition for all they do – every day of the week, 24 hours a day. Hundreds of our members have been waiting for quite some time for this pay banding improvement.”

Easing of lockdown must happen safely

Avoiding ​a second wave in the autumn ​is vital

Commenting on the Prime Minister’s announcement today (Tuesday) that there is to be a further easing of the lockdown, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:

“Many people will jump at the chance to see more family and friends, and visit pubs and restaurants, but others will be understandably cautious.

“Good public services need a thriving economy and the spectre of mass unemployment – particularly among the young – must be avoided.

“But the slow return to normal must happen safely. Squandering the lockdown sacrifices ​and progress made in the past three months would be foolish.

“All workplaces opening up must make proper risk assessments of the virus threat. Avoiding ​a second wave in the autumn and preventing the NHS, social care ​and other public services from being overwhelmed ​is vital.”

Address inequality to protect Black workers against Covid-19, says UNISON

Dave Prentis writes to Boris Johnson urging immediate action on all Public Health England’s recommendations

The government must act immediately to protect Black workers from Covid-19 by closing gaps that create health inequalities and poverty and ensuring workplaces are safe, says UNISON today (Tuesday).

The union has written to ​the Prime Minister urging him to implement all Public Health England’s (PHE) recommendations such as developing comprehensive risk assessments for Black staff to reduce their chance of coronavirus exposure and infection.

It follows ​the publication last week of a PHE report ​which concluded ​that the risk of dying is higher among BAME people than in white ethnic groups – a finding ​that UNISON says needs urgent answers.

The letter from general secretary Dave Prentis calls on the Prime Minister to take action including closing ethnicity and disability pay gaps, bringing into force laws to ask public authorities to consider how their policies increase or decrease inequality, and to set up a race advisory board to inform ​government policy-making.

In the letter, ​Dave Prentis says: “Coronavirus is inextricably linked to inequality. Urgent action is needed to close the gaps in health inequalities and poverty that accelerate susceptibility to coronavirus and life expectancy.

“​Poverty is a political choice. Ending deprivation and rising inequality must be a government priority as the UK deals with the economic, health and social challenges of the pandemic.

“Black workers and communities deserve to have the PHE report acted upon and their lives valued and protected as all others.”

Huge membership rise for UNISON ahead of new recruitment ad campaign launch​

More than 90,000 new members already joined this year

A new recruitment campaign, ​aimed at increasing the record number of public service workers who’ve joined UNISON since the start of the pandemic, is being launched by the union today (Monday).

The 60-second animated advert is being screened on Sky, ITV, Channel 4 and YouTube with the message that no worker should feel alone in ​these uncertain times.

The film was created by the GOOD Agency, with whom UNISON has worked for seven years, along with animation studio Coffee & TV. At its heart are ​the ​messages that reassurance, peace of mind and ​security are the benefits that membership of the union brings.

UNISON is currently experiencing a membership surge, with more than 90,000 people signing up ​by the end of May. That’s an increase of almost a quarter (23%) on the same period in 2019.

A quarter (25%) of th​is membership ​increase came in May alone, with 23,040 joining​ last month, a 51% ​rise on the same month last year​, says UNISON.

Altogether UNISON welcomed 91,925 new members during the first five months of 2020. The net rise is estimated to be well in excess of 24,000 people when leavers and retiring members for the period are ​discounted.

One sector where growth has been ​significant is among school ​support staff​, says UNISON. Recruitment for May ​among those working in education was more than four times higher (308%) than the equivalent month in 2019.

The union’s campaigning on behalf of care workers throughout the coronavirus pandemic has also ​prompted a marked increase of 135% year-on-year increase for May ​in social care membership.

Figures also show ​that three in ten of ​all new members (31%) are employed in the private sector.

UNISON assistant general secretary Liz Snape said: “Even ​when times​ are good, everyone in work should be in a union. With the added challenges of life during the pandemic, it’s more important ​than ever.

“Unions ​aren’t just for when things go wrong, but ​are there to improve working lives​ ​too. They hold poor employers to account, ​help workers’ improve their skills and work with governments to ensure work is safe and fair.

“During the pandemic, thousands of ​people working in the NHS, social care, schools, police forces and local government have been joining UNISON. They realise it makes sense in troubled times to have somewhere to turn that has their best interests at heart.

“But ​there are still many workers out there who need support and advice, and who’ve never belonged to a union. This film ​shows how becoming part of the UK’s biggest union makes perfect sense.”

Commenting on the new ad campaign, GOOD Agency CEO and ​founder Chris Norman said: “Appreciation of our public service workers across the country has been incredible over the last few months, but they also need the type of support that allows them to focus on the jobs that we all rely on, especially in these uncertain times.

“That’s why we are so pleased to have worked with UNISON on ​its latest membership recruitment campaign. Being part of UNISON gives members the confidence and peace of mind to focus on doing what they do best, looking after all of us.

“The brief was to create a campaign that will beat the previous target-smashing campaign, with the added complication of doing it during lockdown. Working closely with the fantastic team at UNISON and the brilliant people at Coffee & TV, we believe we have done just that.”

Government must act immediately on second PHE BAME report

Commenting on the second report published today (Tuesday) by Public Health England (PHE) on the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black communities, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:

“The government must act now. Words and promises to do something in the future won’t cut it any longer.

“The pandemic has brought home just how many frontline care and health employees are from Black communities. They’ve suffered a heavy toll and need better protecting now, before the almost inevitable second Covid spike.

“The government’s failure to release the PHE data and recommendations together was a huge mistake. It’s caused further mistrust and damage to the Black community at a time when people need reassurance, not dither, delay and excuses.

“More thorough risk assessments, targeted testing and moving vulnerable workers out of reach of the virus are paramount. That means recommending the use of masks and face coverings in care homes and schools too.

“People will also want to see exactly how structural and institutional racism in all areas of employment, housing, education and every other aspect of life in the UK are to be eradicated.”

Extend free scheme to all frontline care and NHS staff, says UNISON

Union launches campaign urging people to write to their MP to get Immigration Bill changed

A government scheme exempting overseas workers from visa fees for one year should be extended to all care staff and NHS employees, says UNISON today (Monday).

The union is backing an amendment brought by MP Yvette Cooper to the Immigration Bill ​that would ensure many more staff – such as social care workers, hospital cleaners, healthcare assistants and porters – would not have to pay up to £3,000 to remain working on the Covid-19 frontline.

A campaign launched by UNISON urging people to write to their MP to get the Bill changed coincides with the publication today (Monday) of a Home Affairs Select Committee report​, which also calls for a visa scheme extension.

Only around 3,000 NHS workers – whose visas were due to expire before 1 October – currently qualify for the free extension announced in April by the Home Office.

UNISON says many more are having to face the costly and stressful process of applying because they are not eligible under the scheme.

They include care support worker Akeem Lawall who has been working up to 60 hours a week looking after vulnerable people throughout the pandemic in a care home.

The 37-year-old earns just £9.50 an hour but will have to pay to replace his visa when it expires in September this year, despite being classed as an essential worker.

Akeem, who came to the UK from Nigeria in 2016 and is married with two children, says: “I want to continue in my job caring for people.

“The visa is a huge cost though that I’ll struggle to pay given my wages – I don’t know how I’ll find the money.”

UNISON is also calling on the government to grant key workers who have been on the Covid-19 frontline indefinite leave to remain.

UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “It’s deeply unjust that thousands of care workers and NHS staff don’t qualify for this free scheme.

“It’s a costly process reapplying and one that’s stressful at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic.

“Many migrant workers are in a precarious position with their visas up for renewal during the crisis. They’re on the frontline looking after us – we must look after them too.​”

Care worker pay deductions must be tackled to stop hardship and control virus spread

Some workers going unpaid while following safety guidance

Huge disparities in financial support for care workers during the pandemic show the government must act to ensure staff are not left in financial peril and become more willing to take health risks, says UNISON today (Monday).

Staff in the care sector, who need to self-isolate, shield or have the virus, have told UNISON they’re being forced to take unpaid leave or survive on minimal statutory sick pay (SSP), leaving them hundreds of pounds out of pocket each week.

Some have been told by their employers to use up annual leave or make up time for free when they return to work.

UNISON research shows the situation varies widely between employers. Many care workers complain they are being left high and dry with next to no income, even though their workplace may have been where they contracted the virus.

It means a significant number have no choice but to carry on working against public health advice because they can’t afford time off, increasing the risks of spreading the virus at work and to their family, says UNISON.

Ministers must make sure care staff who need to take time off or reduce their hours don’t lose out financially and feel compelled to work whatever the cost, says UNISON.

The union wrote to health and social care secretary Matt Hancock calling for the government to ensure that financial aid intended for care staff actually reaches them and isn’t kept by employers to cover costs.

But the response from care minister Helen Whately makes clear that cash-strapped councils will have to absorb the financial burden of monitoring and enforcing the distribution of the funding.

UNISON says the potential costs of doing this mean it’s unlikely local authorities – often with dozens of care providers in their areas – will have the resources to pursue employers who don’t pass on the cash to their staff.

The union’s research has revealed that pay arrangements for care workers who take time off while ill, isolating or shielding differ wildly.

While some good employers have allowed workers to stay off on full pay, others have fallen far short, says UNISON.

Situations reported by workers include being paid just 10% of their usual salary; receiving sick pay for a week and then SSP of £95.85 for any remaining time; being temporarily furloughed; taking time off as holiday and using up their annual entitlement; and being told to take time off as unpaid leave.

Some say they’ve been kept in the dark about arrangements, with one worker finding their wages had been reduced by £500 following a two-week absence, with no explanation about how this was calculated.

For those who have needed to shield – either for themselves or family members – just 31% were fully paid, a UNISON analysis of responses from care workers found.

More than one in five (22%) received only SSP, while 9% were told they had to carry on working and 8% told they would receive no pay at all.

The analysis showed one in ten care workers said they were aware of colleagues who continued working despite having Covid-19 symptoms.

Other staff have told the union their income is dropping in other ways with care home workers saying their shifts have reduced because the number of residents has fallen dramatically.

Some care staff working out in the community say they have fewer people to look after because some clients are in isolation or shielding, affecting their payments.

UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “It’s a confusing picture for care workers who are being treated very differently depending on where they work.

“But the bottom line is thousands are facing heartbreaking choices about whether to stay off work or pay the bills

“Already on incredibly low pay and in precarious work, they feel compelled to carry on simply to make ends meet and keep their jobs.

“Around one in ten of those who’ve been in touch know colleagues who’ve continued working when they should be isolating, while some are avoiding being tested because they can’t afford to take time off.

“It’s scandalous that less than a third of those shielding had been offered full pay especially when the government says care workers shouldn’t be penalised for following public heath advice.

“Ministers have to make sure care staff are not out of pocket so we can halt the spread of the virus for the sake of carers and the vulnerable people they look after.”
Some of the care workers contacting UNISON said:

  • “I was isolating for seven days and only received SSP. This had a massive impact on my financial circumstances as I am the only earner at home and still had bills to pay.”
  • “I was Covid-positive after contracting it at work and was off for three weeks. I have a mortgage to pay and bills, and I don’t know how I’m expected to survive. I put my life on the line, survived and was repaid with SSP. Although I was eventually symptom-free, I felt I returned to work too soon as my fear and anxieties went through the roof and had to be given medication from my GP.”
  • “I was told I could stay off but would only receive statutory sick pay. I had to continue working although I have diabetes and was advised to take 12 weeks off but obviously couldn’t afford to.”
  • “I had to self-isolate for 14 days due to a member of my household having symptoms. I received SSP from day one. I do not feel this is enough to cover the cost of living as both myself and my partner were off as he had the virus. As a result I had to borrow money from a family member to pay my bills. I was told I required testing before returning to work and was not allowed back, which meant I lost more wages. My GP said it was not necessary to be tested at that time as 14 days had passed and I remained symptomless.”
  • “I am so stressed and disappointed. They deducted more than I should be earning. They robbed me. Honestly, if I knew that the deduction would be this much – more than the usual sickness deduction – I would not have isolated.”
  • “It’s very unfair that if we catch Corona in the workplace we are only entitled to SSP (plus a small subsidy, in the case of our employer) but people on furlough get 80% of their pay without going in. We deserve better especially as we’re contracting it from the workplace.”
  • One of my family had symptoms, which I disclosed to my office. I was asked to isolate for two weeks and only got SSP. I rang the owner of the home who confirmed I wouldn’t get any pay from my company – for doing the right thing and isolating.”

Catalogue of errors contributed to catastrophic care death toll, says UNISON

Care sector was out of sight, out of mind

Commenting on a report published today (Friday) by the National Audit Office on how the government prepared the NHS and social care for the Covid-19 pandemic, UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said

“This is a catalogue of errors and highlights once again a complete absence of planning or thought for social care.

“Discharging patients to care homes without testing was simply scandalous and accelerated the spread of the virus among an obviously high-risk group.

“This report confirms what staff have said from the start, that the supply of protective equipment in social care was woefully inadequate.

“And it makes clear the government doesn’t know how many people have actually been tested in care.

“It’s plain the care sector was out of sight, out of mind in the early stages of the pandemic. The result has been a tragic and catastrophic loss of life.

“When the government announced compulsory face coverings for the NHS but made no mention of care, it was clear lessons haven’t been learned. The sector’s still being treated as an afterthought.