‘This wouldn’t happen to men’ Home carer in long-running dispute with ‘Scrooge’ council over new shifts hits out at her treatment
IT was a humorous Christmas card with a message delivered to Birmingham City Council House... depicting leader of the council Ian Ward as miserly old Ebeneezer Scrooge.
The card was delivered by Unison members representing the Birmingham home care workers, with placards held aloft and one representative even dressing as Santa for the visit.
For 19 months now Unison and the enablement care workers have been locked in a dispute with the council, with several days of strike action called over the council’s attempts to cut the number of hours each employee can work, as well as making alterations to shift patterns.
And, away from the satirical Christmas cards, there’s a far more serious side to the story.
Mandy Buckley is a senior steward for Unison, and has been a home care worker for the past 16 years.
Home carers work for the council’s enablement service, which offers six weeks of support to people discharged from hospital who cannot support themselves.
Under council proposals the workers are set to see their hours slashed, with the maximum currently available to each employee just 27 hours a week.
There are also contracts offers of 22 or 16 hours per week, but a change to shift patterns means that many can not work the hours being offered.
Ms Buckley says that if the proposals go ahead as planned, many of the 218 home care workers will not be able to pay their mortgages or get by.
The vast majority of the home care workforce consists of women.
“It’s been a hard journey to go through,” says Ms Buckley.
“We had staff consultations last year, one to ones, and they kept saying to staff ‘are you able to do the service, are you able to do the shifts, is this job for you?’
“And with that many staff decided to take voluntary redundancies. So 48 per cent of the service has gone already. They only want 88 people working the top hours, then they’re looking at 60 for the 23 hour contracts and 45 on 16 hours. There are 134 staff that are working 30 hours or more.
“So if there’s only 88 at the top end hours then there’s got to be some full time staff that go down to 23 hours, which is just evenings, 3 til 10. And then the rest of the staff would be down to 16 hours. So it’s a massive drop.
“I’m currently on 25 hours, and could be looking at 16 hours a week, and I couldn’t manage.
“You’re looking at losing nine hours a week, and over a month that’s a lot, that’s a week and a half ’s wages that I’d lose.
“That would mean me not being able to pay off my mortgage, not being able to pay for my gas and electric, not being able to get decent shopping in, to live on. I’ve got a son of 14, and it means him not being able to have his uniform. It’s going to have a massive impact on my life.”
She added: “We understand that the council has to make cuts, we understand that they want efficiency.
“We have said that we’ll work any rota to give efficiency as long as we get our hours to live on. Because we want to keep this service and we want to make it as efficient as possible.
“None of us wanted to strike. We didn’t think in a million years that it would go on this long. “This wouldn’t happen to men” Ms Buckley believes that the council do not fully appreciate the position the home care workers find themselves in, with many of the 218 strong work force depending on their wage to get by.
In response, Birmingham City Council said: “The current BCC Enablement service was identified as poor performing by the CQC and is poor compared to other authorities.
“We want to improve the service to improve the quality of life for citizens.
“The aim is to reduce the amount of time wasted in the service when staff are employed but citizens don’t need a service, and to increase the hours when citizens do need the service so we can support citizens to leave hospital. Currently our citizens don’t receive the service they need and deserve because of the system we have.
“We have dedicated considerable time to meeting with trades unions in the last 18 months to find a common way forward to modernising the service, trying to find middle ground that balances the needs of citizens and needs of staff, and offering alternative proposals following negotiations.”
The council also said that current arrangements mean that only 20 per cent of users leave care enabled, whereas the new system should raise that figure to 80 per cent.
It’s going to have a massive impact on my life Mandy Buckley
> The carers’ message for the council leader Ian Ward