Care workers strike to end 'fire-and-rehire' contract changes

Unison members were out on strike outside Sandford Station Retirement Village. 

Unison members were out on strike outside Sandford Station Retirement Village with Cllr Ian Parker (left). - Credit: Archant

Care workers at a North Somerset retirement village began their first day of industrial action yesterday (June 29) as they demand a stop to controversial changes to their contracts.  

Members of the UK's largest union, UNISON - which represents people who provide public services - voted 82 per cent in favour to strike for five days as St Monica Trust seeks to 'cut working conditions'. 

The union says the company wants to 'cut pay rates, sick pay entitlement' and make changes to working hours by 'forcing extra unpaid breaks' during shifts.

If care workers do not accept the proposals, they will be dismissed and forced to agree to the changes in order to be re-employed - a practise otherwise known as fire-and-rehire. 

St Monica Trust dismissed these claims and said the proposals 'actually mean that 73 per cent of our care home colleagues will be better off than before due to increases in their basic pay'.

Unison members on strike outside Sandford Station Retirement Village. 

Unison members on strike outside Sandford Station Retirement Village. - Credit: Helen Thornton

Staff from four St Monica sites - including at the Sandford Station Retirement Village - have taken industrial action and will continue with the strikes on Saturday (July 2), Tuesday (July 5) and 48 hours over July 10 and 12.

Striking UNISON members were also supported by Weston's deputy mayor Cllr Pete McAleer and Cllr Ian Parker.

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Branch secretary of North Somerset UNISON, Louise Branch, said: "We've had a lot of support from workers, people driving-by and walkers all thanking us for standing up to the carers who worked all through the pandemic.

"Staff will indeed be thousands of pounds worse off in the long run and cuts to sick pay will mean many staff will be worse off almost immediately.

"Some of these workers will be losing around £5,000 a year with these cuts.

"From the very beginning St Monica Trust were threatening staff with these cuts. Some of these people have worked here for more than ten years and they aren't treating them with the respect they deserve.

"They've all been working through extremely tough conditions and Covid, and now they've lost an awful lot of permanent workers.

"St Monica hasn't consulted with us or attempted to negotiate so we had to strike to ensure staff are properly valued and recompensed.

"We're concerned that members are being bullied into accepting these terms, around 30 experienced workers have already left because of these contract changes and many more are looking for other jobs.

"It makes no sense why St Monica Trust would be pursuing this because the industry is already extremely short-staffed."

Cllr Pete McAleer (left) with UNISON members. 

Cllr Pete McAleer (left) with UNISON members. - Credit: Pete McAleer

In a statement, St Monica Trust chief executive, David Williams, said: "Every single member of our team is valued and, as we have done throughout this process, we will continue to listen to our colleagues and address any remaining issues that they may have regarding the care home restructure.

"We believe the necessary changes to how our care homes operate should be resolved through the continuing process of honest consultation with our employee representative groups, which has already resulted in 80 per cent of colleagues agreeing to the proposals.

"The proposals aim to deliver consistency in the ways of working across all of the trust’s care homes, improve recruitment and attract new workers into the social care sector.

"The threat of fire-and-rehire is not a term that we would recognise as being a part of the wider consultation process, which the St Monica Trust is legally bound to follow.

"All St Monica Trust colleagues were also awarded a 4 per cent pay rise this year, which is far higher than the average pay increase for the health and social care sector.

"Among more than 500 colleagues who work at the trust’s care homes, this strike action is only supported by 64 individuals.

"We hope that the remaining strike days will be called off by the union."