It has been brought to our attention that some social care providers have begun threatening their staff with disciplinary action and even dismissal if they continue to work for a different employer. We have been sent pictures of noticeboards in care homes explicitly making this threat.
It is very common for staff in social care to work for multiple employers, primarily because wages are low, and staff are often forced to work on a casualised basis (such as zero hours contracts).
UNISON recognises that it is necessary for governments and care providers to put in place arrangements that reduce the movement of staff between care settings during the pandemic period. This is a sensible infection control measure. However, these measures should always be put in place on a consensual basis, ensuring care worker’s overall income is not reduced and without resorting to punitive measures.
It is staggering that care providers should be threatening staff in this way. Care workers have worked heroically during the pandemic, often putting themselves at personal risk due to lack of PPE, inadequate testing and lack of sick pay. This most recent development is yet another reminder of the dire state of employment relations and culture in much of the care sector.
The infection control fund has provided funds to the sector to help with the costs of putting in place the kind of arrangements UNISON supports.
UK Government infection control fund guidance is here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/adult-social-care-infection-control-fund/about-the-adult-social-care-infection-control-fund and states the following:
“Measures a local authority can fund a provider to carry out in relation to the infection control fund:
ensuring, in so far as possible, that members of staff work in only one care home. This includes staff who work for one provider across several homes or staff that work on a part-time basis for multiple employers and includes agency staff (the principle being that the fewer locations that members of staff work in the better, for example, compensating staff whose normal hours are reduced due to restrictions on their movement)“
The UK government’s recently published winter plan states:
“The extension of the Infection Control Fund will:
- continue to support all providers to put in place measures to stop staff movement
- continue to support providers to pay staff who are self-isolating, in line with government guidance, their normal wages while doing so
Limitations on staff movement between care homes will be enforced through regulations focused on care home providers.”
The regulations referred to above are not yet published. Should any forthcoming regulations make care workers themselves personally liable, UNISON will of course oppose them. Similarly, we would oppose them should any regulations encourage employers to impose restrictions unilaterally, punitively or without protecting care worker income
UNISON’s advice to any branch rep or regional staff hearing reports of this kind of employer behaviour is as follows:
- Challenge the employer using the points raised above, seek to have consensual infection control measures put in place which also protect care worker income.
- Report the incident to both the regional office and UNISON National Office (email@example.com)
- Where appropriate, communicate with and work with commissioners (usually local authorities) to ensure care providers are aware that punitive measures towards care staff are not appropriate.
- Local councils are also administering the Infection Control Fund. Branches/regions should made them aware of any similar actions from employers. The government’s social care winter plan states that councils should: “distribute money from the Infection Control Fund and submit returns on how the funding has been used in line with the grant conditions.”