STUC warns of increasing industrial unrest in care sector

April 16th 2019

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) has today published a report on Scotland’s care crisis. The report, focusing on social care and early learning and childcare in Scotland, concludes that a perfect storm of ongoing equal pay discrimination, existing staffing shortages, an ageing population and Brexit is likely to lead to further staffing shortages and industrial unrest. Grahame Smith, General Secretary of the STUC said: 

“Scotland’s care workers are sick and tired of being underpaid and undervalued. Increasingly, they are fighting back and taking industrial action. Unison and GMB care workers have shown that, not only are they winning, but that care workers and women workers generally are the industrial frontline of the Scottish trade union movement today. 

 “A perfect storm of a disgruntled workforce; equal pay discrimination; staff shortages; an ageing population and the risks associated with Brexit, mean that Scotland’s care sector is in far from good health. 

“The Scottish Government’s recently published ‘Fair Work Action Plan is an acknowledgment that things need to improve. To avoid more industrial unrest we need to urgently invest more in care and increase collective and sectoral bargaining to allow workers to have their voices heard.” 

Helen Meldrum, GMB Scotland Organiser said: “Earlier this year our members fought off Dundee City Councils proposals for split shifts which would have seen them face up to a £4500 cut in pay. The predominantly female workforce demanded to be valued and asked to be balloted for strike action. 

“The solidarity among the women was amazing and they won the hearts and minds of those they work for as the council climbed down.

"The Dundee care workers, along with the Equal Pay strike in Glasgow, have shown how women workers can organise themselves and we should be doing everything we can as a movement to support that.”

Gail Wallace, Unison rep and social care worker said, “Dundee Homecare Workers were aggrieved by their employer Dundee City Council who were treating the predominately female staff unfairly by trying to introduce a split shift work pattern, working from 7am till 10pm with few hours break in-between. 

“This was going to present many problems for staff as no childcare would be available at those times and most of the female workforce had caring responsibilities in one way or another. After being bullied and threatened with job losses, wage cuts or service being privatised staff decided to fight back. We fought a long campaign for over 2 years. We then decided enough was enough and decided to take industrial action. Our hard work paid off and eventually DCC backed down and reversed their decision. A victory for low paid women workers who stood together and achieved a great result.” 

Notes: 

More than 250,000 workers, mainly women, work in social care and early learning and childcare in Scotland. While the work that they do – caring for our older people and educating our children – is some of the most important work in society, they face some of the worst terms and conditions in the country and are often paid less than men in comparable jobs. 

The situation has led to a wave of recent industrial disputes involving thousands of women in Glasgow and Dundee. The STUC warn that strikes will only increase unless changes are made to how care is funded and workers terms and conditions are determined. The STUC recommends that alongside increased investment, changes must be brought about in partnership with workers, employers and the Scottish Government, through collective bargaining structures. 

The research is being released at the STUC’s 122nd Annual Congress today, where two care workers will introduce a film which highlights the recent equal pay strike in Glasgow. The equal pay strike saw thousands of care workers strike alongside caterers, cleaners and learning support workers in Scotland’s biggest ever equal pay strike.

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