Celebrating work of carers in the pandemic

Regional organiser Debs Clarke in one of her regular video messages on the UNISON Care workers for Change – Scotland Facebook group.

Every day during the pandemic we are reminded of the true value of Scotland’s care workers.

Quality care has continued to be delivered by our members throughout the pandemic with superhuman stories emerging every day from the front line.

It is important to reflect that care staff working without the safety net of the NHS to protect them had no PPE or appropriate training on infection control to cope with a pandemic. The ever decreasing pool of staff meant the responsibilities were huge and at times felt insurmountable but still they continued to turn up to work despite significant personal risk.

Social care was in crisis long before the pandemic arrived as thousand left the sector for better pay. Many care workers are heavily regulated but have no access to occupational sick pay, or any death in service benefit and wages are poor. The majority of care workers are women who have no effective voice at work; given that background it highlights just how dedicated they are.

As the weeks went by care workers were largely left to fend for themselves with no choice but to “make it work” as best they could. Their employers responded by producing reams of guidance documents and poor risk assessments that made them feel they were “doing their bit” but it did nothing to support the front line in their constant battle to interpret mountains of confusing and contradictory advice which frankly they had no time to read.

UNISON was quick to react to the call from members for advice and support as branches began to receive hundreds of calls a day. The Scottish living wage was promised along with parity with their colleagues in health and local government on sick pay. Over the weeks these turned out to be empty political promises some would say publicity stunts!

It took sustained pressure from UNISON Scotland to deliver normal pay for care staff when following public health guidance and isolating at home as many were left to cope on £95 a week!

The Scottish living wage however has still not made it into the pay packets of many care staff as local authorities have not passed on the money. UNISON continues to apply pressure to deliver this vital pay uplift to carers.
UNISON worked successfully to get PPE to the front line and has since achieved clarity on testing with care staff now seen as a priority.

It has taken a pandemic where hundreds of vulnerable people have died in care homes for care staff to be recognised as essential workers. Only now has society woken up to the reality of the vital role these mostly low paid, unvalued workers undertake.

Warm words from government saying they are “equal to their NHS colleagues” does not mean anything unless translated into rewarding them as professionals for the skills and abilities they bring to the role.

UNISON continues to call on the Scottish Government and providers to come together to recognise and reward this workforce under the ‘Fair Work’ umbrella at the very earliest opportunity.

By Debs Clarke, Regional organiser