June gave workers in Camden’s school kitchens some cause to celebrate, but for residential care workers in the borough it was a very different story. A further 50 Camden Council employees transferred to the South Wales-based private company, Shaw Healthcare, in the week of 22 June. The staff – most of them workers supporting older people with dementia – are now based at the newly built Wellesley Road care home, which has replaced the closed Branch Hill and St Margaret’s facilities, and most of them will be earning well under the London living wage.
The opening of the new Wellesley Road marks the final phase of the ‘Homes for Older People’ project, originally launched under the 2006-10 Lib Dem/Tory partnership administration, though the eventual contract with Shaw Healthcare was approved early in the life of the 2010-14 Labour-controlled council. The project entails a long-term, PFI-style contract with Shaw that is due to run until financial year 2040-41. Long before the opening of the first Shaw-run facility at Maitland Park in June 2013 it had become clear that the company had bid on the basis of drastic cuts to basic pay and the axing of any allowances for overnight shifts and weekend working.
Shaw’s ‘business model’ is typical of the increasingly privatised social care sector as a whole resulting in poverty pay for those caring for some of society’s most vulnerable.
Shaw has offered a ‘buy -out’ of pay and conditions to transferring staff worth £24,000 for full-time employees, but subject to tax and National Insurance deductions so in reality equivalent to some £16,000. In exchange for this sum, spread over two payments six months apart, basic pay falls to the level of the National Minimum Wage for domestics and just £7.57 for care workers – £1.58 an hour below the current £9.15 an hour London Living Wage or between 30% and 40% below previous Camden salaries.
The majority of a demoralised workforce has now reluctantly accepted the buy-out with many thinking of looking for jobs elsewhere in the near future. But this is not the whole story.
On 2 March care home staff had joined with colleagues from the school meals Caterlink contract as part of a vibrant lobby, followed by a deputation to a full Council meeting.
Subsequently on 22 June UNISON organised a second deputation that had a clear impact. Councillor Sally Gimson, the new Cabinet member for Health & Adult Social Care, seems seriously committed to the implementation of the London Living Wage on the Shaw contract by early 2016 despite the company’s intransigent stance to date.
UNISON is committed to keeping the pressure on to ensure that the Council acts in the spirit of its LLW policy sooner rather than later. The whole experience of the outsourcing to Shaw has highlighted both a deeply flawed procurement process and the fundamental folly of privatisation.