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Union Plea to County Council for Care Staff Pay Rise

Published on: 4 Feb, 2021
Updated on: 6 Feb, 2021

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

A Surrey care worker has described how she tries to spare her family distress by playing down how closely she works with her clients during the pandemic.

UNISON told the county council’s cabinet of the worker’s plight, along with another woman who every week waits in fear for her coronavirus test result.

The public services union is backing better pay for care staff. They had expected a 2% raise for all care home workers from April 2021, but the council revised its offer after Chancellor Rishi Sunak said in his November spending review all public sector pay except NHS staff would be frozen.

Paul Couchman. Taken at a UNISON low pay protest in Egham in 2018 – Photo Paul Couchman

Paul Couchman, UNISON’s county branch secretary, told Tuesday’s (January 26) cabinet meeting: “Surrey County Council has never meekly followed the diktats of central government, so why start now?”

He said a union member told him: “Every time I get to work it crosses my mind, is this the day I pick up Covid-19?

“As a care worker, I have to work closely with the service users. It’s just not possible to do the job if you don’t. I’ve washed and shaved them, helped them do their washing, put away their clothes.

“I can’t tell my family the service users are positive. They’d be horrified I was working so close to infection.”

Another carer said: “This year has been awful. Every Friday evening, in time to make or break my weekend and possibly the rest of my life, my test results, positive or negative come through.

“I look forward to a time when my Friday evenings are not spent fearfully looking out for that text message.”

A UNISON spokesperson said: “At Mallow [Crescent, Guildford residential home], the second outbreak has been much more serious in terms of infection than the first.

Mallow Crescent assisted living residential homes, Burpham operated by Surrey County Council – Photo Google Maps

“We had six staff members test positive with the virus this time although no residents. At least two have been quite ill although not in hospital.”

More than 800 people signed a petition asking the council to reintroduce enhanced pay rates for rota shifts that involve weekends, late nights and bank holidays.

These were introduced temporarily for care home staff in April, to reward them for the extra work during the pandemic, but were withdrawn after six months.

The council agreed to reinstate the enhancements, from January 1, and also gave a £250 award to frontline social care staff.

“We don’t think this was anywhere near enough, but it was a start,” said Mr Couchman.

“Of course we were pleased when the council eventually responded positively to our lobbying, negotiations and petition, but the £250 one-off payment will not even cover the potential lost earnings for some of our members, and the current pay offer will be an effective pay cut for many as well.”

Those on the lowest pay grade of £17,457 are being given a 2.15% raise, but most offers are less and many salaries remain the same.

The union argues a pay freeze amounts to a pay cut because wages fall behind as the cost of living increases with inflation.

They want the enhancements backdated to October 1, when they were stopped.

SCC Cllr Sinead Mooney

Cllr Sinead Mooney, cabinet member for adult social care and public health, said some unions points seemed valid and she would discuss them with the service director and HR team.

“This year has been awful,” she said. “I acknowledge and accept that. This is a very tense and difficult environment for people to be working in.

“I do consider this staffing group to be incredibly brave and show truly tremendous personal courage on every level.”

Mr Couchman said he was “very pleased” with her response. “I really hope it wasn’t just words and there’s a meeting as soon as possible with the responsible council officers,” he added.

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