Northumberland home staff could take industrial action over pay cut

> Another example of what happens when NHS services are privatised…

Staff in homes for people with learning and physical disabilities in Northumberland could take strike action over what they describe as a “savage cut” to their terms and conditions.

The majority of 36 workers in five homes run by Lifeways are being balloted amid claims their pay is to be slashed by £2.30 an hour to £7.65 – below the National Living Wage.

They also say the company is cutting paid sickness leave to five days per year, reducing its contribution to workers’ pensions from 14% to 4% and removing death in service benefits.

The workers are based at three homes in Bedlington and two in Choppington and are represented by the union Unison.

It claims staff who transferred to Lifeways from the NHS are seeing their maternity provision replaced by the statutory minimum and that holiday entitlement has been reduced by seven days.

Unison spokesman Trevor Johnston said:

“They are faced with losing between a third and half of their income and a savage cut to their other terms and conditions of employment.

“The staff are very concerned about their financial security. They are very committed to caring for the residents and appreciate that disruption is unsettling for them. However, they feel that they are faced with no alternative.

“Unison has offered to undertake meaningful negotiations with the employer, especially as Lifeways made a profit last year of £14m.

“Other not-for-profit organisations faced with similar cuts have offered their staff buy out arrangements while continuing to pay the Living Wage.”

The company has blamed a 30% cut in the money it is given to run the homes by Northumberland County Council.

A Lifeways spokesperson said:

“We recognise the impact that any changes to terms and conditions will have on our staff and we are holding talks with Unison in order to avoid industrial action.

“Our service users remain our number one priority and we will maintain a high level of care at all times.

“However, like all other providers of adult social care, we are having to reduce our costs as a result of local authority budget cuts.

“Despite a 30% reduction in fees, we are required to deliver the same level of service as currently.

“The fee decrease is being absorbed in part through a reduction in our operating costs, mostly through the proposed changes in employment terms and conditions, but also in part by Lifeways directly.”

The services now run by Lifeways were operated by the Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust as residential care homes until 2012.

A Northumberland County Council spokesperson:

“The trust made a decision a number of years ago that they no longer felt it appropriate for them to continue providing this kind of social care service, and consulted their staff in relation to this.

“The county council, which was the funder of the services, therefore advertised in 2012 for a new provider to take over the services and work towards supporting the service users in a less institutional way, changing the services from residential homes to a ‘supported living’ scheme, in which service users would become tenants with enhanced rights and greater independence.

“The contract offered in the original tender is the contract that was agreed would operate from April 1.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 09 Mar 2015

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