Saturday, 20 August 2016

The calamity facing every Care Assistant & Support Worker


Quite rightly, a national blacklist exists of care workers who have abused or mistreated a resident or service user.

Workers in this sector are at high risk of being drawn into a serious investigation.  Service users make complaints - and by no means are all of them well founded.  The families of service users complain. Same as anywhere else, your colleagues can complain about you.

Because of the importance of any care home, the employer cannot ignore any complaint and must investigate all of them.   It's rare to find an experienced care worker who hasn't been involved in a disciplinary investigation.

So here's the really scary thing.  It's not just your job on the line when there's an investigation. It's your name and reputation.  A dismissal from the care sector carries with it the very real possibility that you will never work again doing what you love. In other words, your career can be completely destroyed....permanently.

I dealt with a hearing this week in a care home for adults with learning disabilities.  A service user with aggression issues opened an internal door where he shouldn't have been. A very decent care worker held up her hands in front of him to gesture he should not come closer.

To the colleague standing behind, it looked like a push. Because she is also a decent and caring support worker, she felt it her responsibility to report the incident.   I believe that both were being sincere.

The support assistant loves her job and has been devastated at the prospect of being banned from caring for others. The investigation has taken months (no good reason for that, but not unusual) and has made her unwell. So has been so upset and horrified by the allegations that she was in no fit state to represent herself at the most important meeting of her life. As with most cases I've done in the care sector, I believe the outcome would have been very different had the union not been involved.

Employers never need to prove something, they only need a "reasonably held belief" of guilt.  They look at "the balance of probabilities".

Faced with the calamity of dismissal from the care sector, it is extremely unwise not to be a member of a Trade Union.

Because so many are not, there are decent people on the blacklist who shouldn't be. Decent people whose lives have been needlessly ruined.  Residents have been deprived of quality carers.

Worse, some employers are spiteful when it comes to the blacklist, and use it as a threat. Some workers even end up on the list before any hearing has been heard. Because union membership is low in the sector, nobody has any idea how widespread this abuse of the workers is.

Like the old legal saying goes, "the client who chooses himself as his lawyer is a fool."

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Exhausted lorry driver told to carry on working...after 14 hr shift

There was still one more run to do.   But the shattered driver had already done over fourteen hours, and didn't feel safe to do anymore.

He pulled in and rang the transport office.   "There's only one job left, you can be back here in 45 minutes if you get going now."

"I'm shattered, I'm not safe to do anymore. I'll be back in five minutes so I can go home."

"Let me be very clear....you will complete the next job now or you will be failing to follow a reasonable request."

The driver stuck to his guns and refused to do the unsafe job.

The next day, he was suspended and placed under investigation for "gross misconduct".

Luckily, these are union drivers.   Understandably, the Snr Steward has been livid about the injustice of this.   Attempts to resolve the matter informally failed.

Last week - following a long suspension, the dismissal hearing was held.

About five minutes before kick-off, the Snr Steward had a quiet word with the transport manager.

"Obviously, I can't stop you from sacking ***.  But please understand that if you do, I will be forced to hold a general meeting outside of work for all the drivers."

I'm sure this little chat helped a lot, and probably contributed to the old line, "of course we may need to investigate further, so won't be able to give you a decision today."

I'm pleased to have learned that the charges have been dropped.  I honestly think we'd have balloted for action if the outcome had been different.

Unfortunately, the employers ego will not allow a 100% retreat.  They are suggesting a "performance improvement plan".  The Snr Steward has told them where they can put it :)

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

"Casework"? No, this was love, compassion and decency

I witnessed something deeply sad last week.  A female worker was in the workplace reception, clearly withdrawn, disturbed and unable to communicate.  Colleagues had thought there was a serious mental health issue and had reported the concern to management four hours previously.

When I arrived there was quite a commotion. Different managers and HR officers were each trying to persuade the worker to leave the building and go home.  One of them starting shouting things like "you are failing to follow a reasonable request....your refusal to leave the building is placing your job in jeopardy...we have phoned the police and they will be here soon".

The Unite Snr Steward was amazing.  He calmed everything and everyone down, and eventually managed to persuade the lady to give her car keys to a friend and accept a lift home.

I called back a few days later to see how things were.   By then, our member had been admitted to hospital with a serious mental health condition.

Today was the first time I'd been back to the workplace, and I am stunned by what I've heard.

This unfortunate woman lives on her own in a flat, and has no family in this country.  She was admitted (sectioned) with nothing other than the clothes she was wearing.    The branch bought the lady clothes and toiletries, which they gave to her during visiting hours on the first day of admission.

One of the senior Reps is visiting the lady every day and will continue for as long as required.  The branch has put credit on her mobile phone so she can speak to her Mum.   A plan of support for home visits will be put in place for when the discharge happens.

The lady remains very uncommunicative and unwell, but smiles when our Rep visits.  The Rep has told her that the union are like family and will stand by her everyday until she is well, and that we will support her 100% at work to ensure she is properly eased back, treated fairly and with respect.

The employer has seen an entirely different side to us.  The local branch has been sharply critical of the way management dealt with the issue. and has made it crystal clear that this was not misconduct, and that the Union expects nothing less than a caring, supportive employer to help the lady back into work when better health returns.

This sort of thing is what union officials like me call "casework". Today, that feels like a cold word. Casework is generally passed to me by the Reps when it's something they couldn't sort out themselves.  Only because I visited by chance last week do I even know about this.

Like so much of how unions help people, the word "casework" is woefully inadequate. What I've heard today has been about love, compassion, and decency.

I was speechless as I heard about the amazing support these wonderful Unite Stewards are giving to this very poorly member. Still now, I really don't have the words.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The silent scandal of "PBA" contracts

It's now three years since I blogged about the Swedish Derogation

I wondered then how many "PBA" contracts there were. 

In 2014 the government decided it also wanted to know.  The government has surveyed 3000 Agencies to find out, but only 129 responded.

Estimates vary as to how many Agency workers there are in total.  There are at least 1.3m in the UK, most of them doing a permanent job.

Within my own patch, I would say that perhaps 20% of Agency workers are "PBA's".  If I'm right, that roughly means we are talking about more than 300,000 people nationally. It's a scandal that hardly anybody knows about.

So what are "PBA" contracts, and why are they used?

Well, the Agency Worker Regulations ensure that Agency workers get the same pay as perms after twelve continuous weeks on the "placement".   But a PBA contract is a loophole allowing an employer to pay the worker less than the perm.

The disadvantage for the employers are that the PBA worker becomes an employee of the Agency, and has better employment rights than the usual "contract for services" Agency worker. When work is genuinely temporary, or if a reputable employer is OK with paying Agency workers the same, then PBA contracts aren't used.

PBA contracts are used where there the role is permanent.  These contracts enable employers to pay less than the permanent workers already doing the job.  Where a role is permanent, then there should always be a "proper job", ie permanent contract. Unfortunately, PBA contracts give employers a get-out from doing the right thing.

These contracts are a clear abuse of what "temping" is supposed to be about.  PBA contracts are not about filling temporary roles with temporary people. They are filling permanent jobs with people who want permanent jobs....but with worse pay. And in the cases I've seen, it's much worse pay.

The PBA contracts only guarantee a low amount of weekly hours. This varies, although is typically around fifteen.  If there is a break in the "placement" then your full time pay goes down to half of what you are used to. Because you are employed, you have no access to benefits.   It really is dire for people in that situation.

I'm certain that many Agencies are illegally calculating holiday pay based around the fifteen hours rather than an average of the previous twelve weeks actually worked.  I don't think this has been legally tested yet, but it's a campaign I'm planning to run in a local workplace very soon.

I'm not aware of any PBA worker getting company sick pay.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm dismayed about lack of media coverage for workplace issues. Hardly anyone has heard of the "Swedish Derogation" or "the PBA's", but there's no way anyone could dismiss these issues as trivial.

PBA workers are systematically exploited.

I can think of no reputable reason why PBA contracts are needed. I can think of no reputable reason why UK law permits them to be allowed.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Our unhappy children - why is there no outcry?

One year ago, a major study found that the UK's kids are "among the unhappiest in the world".

This was news for one day. A few weeks later, there was a Huffington Post blog on this issue, which was only shared about 100 times.

The Guardian reported on shocking levels of violence at school, with 38% of 10-12 yrs old being attacked each month.  How much pressure "to succeed" our we putting on kids with all the tests and exams? New "Academy" schools are turning kids away with special needs, robbing them of the education they deserve.

In January, Childline raised the issue with it's own evidence.
The charity conducted 23,530 counselling sessions for kids in 1986-87. In 2014-15 they did 286,812.

The reasons are complex and need to be better understood.  Money doesn't explain all of it, but appears a fair place to start as around 30% of our kids are brought up in poverty. As for the two-thirds of kids not in poverty....how anxious are teenagers about how they will afford a home, or avoid mountains of debt?  

But it's not just the money.  

An epidemic of insecure work is placing intolerable pressure upon our families.

For years it's been known that girls are under lots of pressure about body shape. But the help available is getting worse and not better. It's perverse that girls with anorexia are being turned away because they are "not thin enough".

Our government has responded to all of this by slashing the funding for kids mental health services.

It's obvious that domestic violence and other forms of abuse will make kids extremely unhappy. Why then are we allowing extreme cuts for the already inadequate services that help? Refuge, the largest provider of services for domestic abuse, has seen funding cut by 80% since 2011.

Cuts to legal aid are removing access to justice for parents fighting for safe homes. 

The happiness of our kids is something most of us care about a lot.  These problems require radical political solutions. Meanwhile, our children are growing up fast under a government that doesn't understand and doesn't care.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The jaw-dropping difference a Union can make in a redundancy situation

Redundancy pay over £60,000 ? Most of these union members have exceeded that.

I posted a few days back about a win of £6400 , split amongst 32 people.

Well, I've just helped secure a similar win for 28 members sharing £15,000.  But the difference here is that the £15,000 is small change compared to the money the union had already negotiated.

Many years ago at this factory, you had your annual holidays in arrears.  In other words, you had to work a year before you had paid holidays.  When the company was taken over, these workers were all owed a fair bit of holiday pay. At that time, the union didn't want to cause the company a problem by making them pay it all out at once.  A nice little deal was done so that workers would get four weeks holiday pay whenever they left the business. 

Twenty eight of these long service workers have left (or are about to leave) under voluntary redundancy.

The employer is paying this outstanding holiday pay on top of the negotiated redundancy pay.

The workers get an unsociable hours allowance on top of basic pay. The employer has not included this in it's calculation of the historic holiday pay, although it had included it for all other holiday pay.

The calculation had not been an error.  HR argued that as the unsocial hours element didn't exist at the time of the original deal, they needn't pay it now.

After several weeks of reluctant conversations, the employer has come round to Unite's point of view.

On average. the workers had each been underpaid by between £500 and £600.

Few of these members would have noticed the underpayment.  Why? Because thanks to Unite, the basic redundancy payments (for workers with long service) were in the region of £50,000 to £55,000 each.  (It's very rare indeed to find a good redundancy agreement where there's no collective bargaining.)

Add on four weeks historic holiday pay.....add contemporary outstanding holiday pay.....add notice pay....and these workers each received a considerable sum.

As HR have accepted Unite are right about the calculations for historic holiday pay, they've now paid up.  So that's the extra £15,000 or so between 28 people. I have written this blog to show the hard work and eye for detail Unions have in securing the best possible outcomes for members.

The union members have signed a legal agreement which includes a confidentiality clause. This means I can't say who the employer is, or give names etc. But without doubt, the union has delivered an astonishingly good deal for these members.

Between them, these 28 workers have had over 1.6 million pounds.

Unions. Still winning.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

£6400 attendance bonus win today....

A factory I deal with pays a £200 attendance allowance each quarter, provided there has been no "absence".

A manager decided to interpret the word "absence" differently.  This quarter, thirty-two workers have been denied the payment, despite having had no sickness.

The workers had not been paid for a variety of reasons, eg

Bereavement leave
Attending a funeral
Pregnancy related reason
Emergency carer leave
Emergency parental leave

The Senior Steward spoke to me yesterday about this. I said that the attendance allowance is an "agreement" with Unite. A manager cannot change an "agreement" without our consent - the clue is in the name! I asked the Rep to speak to senior HR and get it sorted himself.  A "failure to agree" could trigger my involvement if that didn't work....

Fast forward to today, and it's been agreed that all thirty two workers will be paid in full, at a total cost to the employer of £6400.

Imagine if the Union wasn't there.......the workers would each have had to fight this through individual grievances.

If you look at this from the senior management perspective, we have really helped them out.  The business has made "an unfortunate error". Without the union, it would have taken far longer to realise the full extent of the bricks middle management had dropped...including potential exposure to discrimination claims.

Without the union, people would have become more upset and it could have become a resented wider issue within the workplace. Thanks to the union, senior management only needed to speak to our Rep and the problem was sorted in a flash. None of the thirty-two people needed to do anything. No tempers frayed, no difficult conversations, no stress. Payment by BACS for all this Friday. No legal letters, no grievances, no hassle. Just common-sense.

This is a typical Trade Union bread n butter win, the likes of which are secured daily across the country.

The most anti-union employers are the ones who have never dealt with us.  They genuinely have no idea how good for business we are.