Urgent action needed on pay for sleep-in shifts, say union and charity chiefs

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Union and charity leaders have joined forces to urge the government to reform minimum wage laws affecting thousands of care workers.

Reform needed

Unison and Mencap have written jointly to the prime minister saying action is needed “urgently” to amend current rules, so sleep-in shifts, where staff have to stay away from home overnight, are defined as working time. The move follows a court decision last month that hours employees are asleep do not have to be paid at minimum wage rates, only the time they are awake and looking after people.

Unison and Mencap were on opposing sides during the long-running case, but in the letter to Boris Johnson both say they’re united in the same vision of a “properly funded care sector”.

They called on the government to ask the Low Pay Commission to investigate the issue of sleep-in pay and reassess the status of shifts, describing the Supreme Court judgment as a “huge blow to care workers”.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said:

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The crisis in social care is a betrayal of the most vulnerable in society.

The whole sector has been broken for years and the Government has ignored this. Proper wages for every hour staff work are a key part of ​much-needed reform.

The fact Unison and Mencap are united on this issue shows the strength of feeling ​across the care sector that enough is enough. ​Ministers must take heed and act now.

Coronavirus – Tue Dec 8, 2020
Unison and Mencap have written jointly to the prime minister saying action is needed ‘urgently’ to amend current rules so sleep-in shifts, where staff have to stay away from home overnight, are defined as working time. (Victoria Jones/PA)

Low paid; highly skilled

A government spokesperson said:

Care workers fulfil a vital role and they’ve worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to support our most vulnerable.

We are committed to supporting them while delivering a care system fit for the future, and we will bring forward proposals for social care reform later this year.

We are providing councils with access to £1 billion in additional funding for social care in 2021-22, on top of a further package of support worth £3 billion to support local authorities and help address the additional pressures, including on adult social care, during the pandemic.

Mencap chief executive Edel Harris said:

Care workers are among the lowest paid in society, yet they do vital, highly-skilled work supporting our loved ones. They deserve better pay.

Boris Johnson promised to fix social care – paying fairly for overnight support is the first step.

Today, we’re joining Unison to urge the Prime Minister to change minimum wage legislation.

Ultimately, the Government’s reforms must include properly funding social care and improving pay to create a world-class social care system we can be proud of.

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