Over 150 care workers employed by Lifeways- which delivers care across the North West- have lodged a grievance through their union UNISON against their employer’s unlawful underpayment for annual leave.
Lifeways, which is one of the UK’s largest social care providers, has been routinely underpaying its care workers when they take time off. In doing so, they have been breaking the law.
The care workers, who have been on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19, regularly work overtime and so-called “sleep-in” shifts, where they stay overnight at a service user’s home in order to deliver care.
According to UK employment law, “sleep-in” shifts and overtime should be included when calculating how much holiday pay workers should earn. Instead, Lifeways’ employee handbook states that their staff will receive only their basic salary during periods of annual leave- leaving care workers hundreds of pounds out of pocket every year.
Due to understaffing during the pandemic, the pressure on care workers to work additional hours has been greater than ever.
A Manchester based care worker employed by Lifeways said: “Working during the pandemic has become more and more difficult- we’ve not been given the things we needed, even basic supplies like hand sanitiser.
“We worked through a pandemic at great risk without great reward. It’s an insult that despite our dedication, we are underpaid by Lifeways.
“I do two sleep-in shifts a week. Without them, I can’t afford to get by on the minimum wage. If I want to take annual leave, I’m losing out financially so I have to decide whether or not I can afford to take a day off. This issue leads to high turnover of staff and low morale which ultimately effects the people we care for.”
A Glossop based care worker employed by Lifeways added: “It’s been stressful working through the pandemic, we have been understaffed. I love my job but we need a break more than ever and we shouldn’t be penalised for taking one.
“For me to take annual leave and not be out of pocket, I need to work extra the week before or after. But we have a young child and finding childcare is so difficult at the moment. I’ve cancelled my annual leave on two occasions because I couldn’t afford to take the days off.”
The care workers have received political backing for their Fair Pay for Holiday campaign from MPs and councillors across the North West, including Councillor Nick Peel, leader of Bolton Labour group, who has signed an open letter calling on Lifeways to resolve the issue.
Cllr Nick Peel, Leader of Bolton Labour Group said: “All workers are rightfully entitled to holiday pay, which was enshrined into law by the last Labour Government in 2003, under the Working Time Directive.
“No worker, especially care workers who are at the front of the fight against COVID-19, should be financially penalised if they take a well-earned break. We urge Lifeways and all employers to consider the wellbeing of their staff, by applying the regulations on holiday pay in a decent and legal manner.”
Cllr Azhar Ali, Leader of Lancashire Labour Group said: “It is beggars’ belief that care workers in our county have been let down by their Government, their employer and their council after putting their lives on the line during the pandemic.
“First, care workers on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 struggled to secure PPE. And now they have been hit by the double whammy of underpayment by Lifeways for annual leave and the callous cut to sleep-in pay by Lancashire County Council.
“What a disgraceful way to treat those we applauded on our doorsteps just a few months ago. I have signed the care workers’ open letter and call on Lifeways and Lancashire County Council to take urgent action to right these wrongs.”
Paula Barker, MP for Liverpool Wavertree said: “We’ve all watched on in awe as care workers have put their own lives on the line this year, despite receiving scant protection from their employer or Government- all whilst receiving insultingly low levels of pay. The pandemic has shone a light on the total dysfunctionality of the social care sector in our country.
“And yet I am still shocked to learn that Lifeways have persisted with their unlawful underpayment for annual leave in the midst of a global pandemic. The company have proven themselves to be cruel, callous and completely unfit to operate in what is supposed to be a caring sector. I urge them in the strongest terms to right this wrong immediately.”
Mick Whitley, MP for Birkenhead said: “I joined in the clapping for care workers during the lockdown. But I never believed clapping was enough- applause does not pay the bills.
“Decent pay, terms and conditions for the highly skilled care workers who continue to work on the front-line of the fight against COVID-19 is well deserved.
“Fair and decent holiday pay is a right, not a privilege. The staff at Lifeways in my constituency and across the country should be given full holiday pay. I have signed the open letter to Lifeways calling for this and I pledge full support to these care workers.”
Over 150 care workers employed by Lifeways across the North West have signed the grievance demanding that the company changes its unlawful policy and pays appropriate back-pay.
The care workers have instigated ACAS early conciliation in an attempt to resolve the dispute amicably by negotiation but are prepared to escalate their campaign should it prove necessary.