Somerset care workers vote for pay strike

More than 100 care workers in Somerset are set to strike after UNISON members voted 95% for action over pay cuts.

The staff, working in care homes in Bath, Keynsham and Midsomer Norton for private company Sirona, are opposing management plans that would mean choosing between working longer hours for the same pay or seeing their wages fall. But faced with UNISON resistance, the company said it would force staff onto new contracts by dismissing them en masse.

Management are extending working hours as an “unpaid break” of thirty minutes per shift. But in most cases these breaks will not be factored into existing shifts. Instead staff will build up a backlog of time owed, meaning they have to work a extra shifts effectively for free, or see the equivalent money deducted from their wages.

Bath &North East Somerset Council cut Sirona’s funding by £215k in 2017 leaving the care company with a budget problem. But care staff are adamant that the new shift patterns won’t work. Many staff work extra hours or a second job to make ends meet, or have caring responsibilities of their own, which the extra shifts would obstruct.

UNISON organiser John Drake said: “These care workers do so much to improve the lives of older and vulnerable people. Yet they’re paid not much more than minimum wage for it. It can’t be right that Sirona are forcing a pay cut on them. Going on strike is a last resort but in this situation what choice do they have other than to stick together and stand up for themselves?”

“Staff are telling us that Sirona is already struggling to recruit because terms and conditions are bad. Another step towards bargain basement jobs will make it worse. This vote for strike action is a sign care workers won’t accept an overstretched and under-funded care system.

“Ultimately the buck stops with B&NES council bosses who could solve this with a small amount of extra money. The council needs to face the facts – you can’t run a care service on a shoestring. B&NES has millions in extra care funding that should form part of a rescue package to avert the need for a strike and make sure older people get the service they deserve.”

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