Socialist Worker

Big care firms grab a subsidy from the Tories while workers get paid peanuts

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2565

Workers are forced to fight for pay while bosses rake it in

Workers are forced to fight for pay while bosses rake it in (Pic: Jess Hurd/Reportdigital.co.uk)


The Tory government confirmed it will “temporarily suspend” enforcement of minimum wage rules for big care firms last week, following corporate lobbying. And it has potentially handed them a huge subsidy.

The move follows employment tribunal (ET) rulings ordering firms to pay staff the minimum wage for sleep-in shifts. Workers can now claim back pay for sleep-in shifts for up to six years.

The total arrears due to care staff is estimated at £400 million. Yet care bosses pleaded poverty and asked the Tories for help—and help they did.

Companies were told that until 2 October there would be no enforcement action concerning the payment for sleep-in shifts. It was unclear whether firms would be hit with any penalty if they continued to underpay workers over the next few months.

Bosses face HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) penalties of up to 200 percent of arrears for not paying the minimum wage.

Yet the Tories said HMRC officials will waive any historic fines owed by employers for underpaying staff for sleep-ins before 26 July 2017.

This potentially hands a subsidy of several hundred millions pounds to firms that have paid workers as little as they thought they could get away with.

The Tories have said nothing about when workers will receive their back pay. Their “exceptional measures” won’t help a social care sector already broken by a toxic mix of privatisation and Tory austerity.

According to the Unison union care workers are “collectively cheated” out of £130 million in wages each year.

Doncaster care worker Theresa spoke to Socialist Worker straight off a nine-hour sleep-in shift that she was paid just £25 for. That’s less than £2.80 an hour.

Duty

Did she sleep? “Not a lot,” Theresa said. “You nod off now and then but with half an eye and half an ear open. You are technically at work. You can’t leave and you’re on duty all the time so we should be paid properly for that.

“These companies are making a lot of money—they can afford to pay us more.”

Care is big business with many of the biggest firms run by private equity funds. Bosses went on the offensive calling on the government to help them out after they were left facing a huge bill.

These firms have milked profits from the sector for over two decades, held down workers’ pay and undermined the quality of care.

Yet the Tories were happy to help them out.

The charity Mencap is appealing the ET ruling and has called on the government to stop enforcement action until there is legal clarity. It has called for the government to fund the back pay bill.

Charities are a minority in the sector. But private equity will happily let them front this campaign.

We should back calls for billions of pounds in extra social care funding immediately and workers’ demands for a decent living wage.

But we should also demand that social care is run as a public service by the state—and kick out the corporate vultures.


Defeat for the Tories over Trade Union Act in Wales

The Trade Union (Wales) Bill was passed in the Welsh Assembly last month.

Unless the chief law officers for the Welsh or Westminster governments challenge it in the Supreme Court before 15 August it will become law.

The bill means certain provisions of the Tory Trade Union Act won’t apply to devolved authorities in Wales.

The requirement for 40 percent of all eligible workers in an “important” public service to back action for it to be legal would not apply.

But the 50 percent turnout required for all ballots would remain.

The bill will remove the requirement for the publication of information on trade union facility time.

It would also lift restrictions on the deduction of union subscriptions from wages by employers.

The bill prohibits bosses from hiring temporary workers to scab on a strike, unless it is unofficial action.

This is in anticipation that the Tories may try and make it legal for bosses to hire scabs.

The Scottish government has spouted many fine words of opposition to the Tories’ anti-union bill. The Welsh bill shows up its lack of action to follow that up.


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