> 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
Almost a quarter of all North-East workers – and nearly a half of part-time staff – are not being paid a living wage, new research shows.
Local authorities in the region are facing fresh calls to pay employees and contractors more after a study by the GMB revealed that 23.4 per cent of North-East jobs paid less than the living wage.
Jobs held by women – 29.9 per cent – and part-time roles – 46.8 per cent – were disproportionately affected, the report based on data from the Office for National Statistics showed.
The living wage is a recommended rate of pay that takes into account the true cost of living in the UK.
In November 2014 the national living wage increased to £7.85 per hour outside London.
GMB is publishing the figures to mark the launch of its 2015 campaign to get every local authority signed up to the living wage. 134 out of 375 local authorities in England and Wales have so far made the move, up from 103 a year ago.
So far only two authorities in the North-East – Newcastle and South Tyneside – have implemented or committed to implement the living wage.
In North Yorkshire, two councils – York and Scarborough – have taken the step.
Billy Coates, GMB regional secretary for the North-East, said:
“No area is immune from the low-pay epidemic which is why all local authorities need to champion the living wage in their communities, beginning with their own staff and contractors.
“There are 446,300 council employees paid less than the Living Wage, the majority of them women working part-time.
“The living wage matters because it takes into account the income that people need for a minimum acceptable standard of living. It is a first step towards a rate of pay that people can live on without relying on benefits.”
In the North-East, Hartlepool has the largest proportion of jobs paying less than the living wage with 34.7 per cent, followed by Redcar and Cleveland – 30 per cent – and Middlesbrough and Northumberland, both 26.8 per cent.
At regional level, the East Midlands has the largest proportion of jobs paying less than the living wage with 24.7 per cent.
Source – Northern Echo, 07 Feb 2015
Thousands of low-paid workers are in line for a pay rise, with the North-East’s biggest council poised to introduce a “local living wage”.
Labour-led Durham County Council is expected to adopt a minimum wage of £7.43 an hour next month (December) – meaning more than 2,500 of the lowest paid workers, including cleaners, catering staff and lollipop men and women, could get a pay rise of up to £1,000 a year from January 1.
The raise is still below the national Living Wage of £7.85, but would cost the cash-strapped authority more than £1m a year.
Councillor Alan Napier, the council’s deputy leader, said the scheme was a fair, affordable and sustainable way of introducing a realistic and deliverable living wage.
“We believe its introduction would not only make a significant difference to the lives of our lowest paid employees but would also have knock-on benefits for the authority and wider county,” he added.
Howard Pink, from Unison, said it was a step in the right direction.
“Local government is the worst paid of the public service sectors and it’s really important to address this issue. The vast majority of people to benefit will be women,” he added.
The council has been considering adopting the living wage for at least two years.
Liberal Democrat Mark Wilkes, whose attempt to force it through by the spring was defeated in July, said: “I’m delighted. A well paid workforce returns the investment in them many times over. We will continue to push for our lowest paid workers to get a fair deal.”
No North-East council has yet adopted the official Living Wage.
Newcastle, Northumberland, North and South Tyneside and Northumberland are working towards increasing their lowest pay levels and Scarborough adopted a minimum wage of £7.45 last November. Sunderland is committed to becoming a Living Wage employer by April.
Durham cannot force its will on schools, where the majority of the lowest paid work, as their pay is controlled by governors.
But Mr Pink said: “If schools are reluctant to bring it in, we will want to discuss that with them.”
The proposals will be debated at a full council meeting on Wednesday, December 3, at Durham’s County Hall.
Source – Durham Times, 19 Nov 2014
A thousand South Tyneside Council workers will begin to be paid a national living wage from next year, it was confirmed today.
The authority is the first in the North East to commit to working towards the implementation of the full national living wage value of £7.65 per hour – £1.34 above the national minimum wage of £6.31 an hour.
The historic move is a major financial boost to borough cleaners, school lunch supervisors and catering assistants in schools, residential homes and leisure facilities – 95 per cent of whom are women.
And it means those workers, who are currently paid £6.54 an hour, will eventually see their hourly rate rise by £1.11.
Pending full council approval in December, from April next year the process of introducing the wage on a phased basis will begin.
Today Coun Ed Malcolm, the council’s lead member for Resources and Innovation, said there was a “compelling case” for making the change, which will cost the authority an estimated £700,000 to implement.
“As a council we are committed to the social justice agenda and trying to bring real change to the lives of people in South Tyneside.
“This is not about giving staff pay supplement – this is about radically changing our salary structure.
“We are working towards permanently protecting our lowest paid workers for the future. Staff affected will not only benefit from the extra money in their wages but also from additional benefits like increased pension provision.
“There is a compelling case to introduce a living wage because it brings dignity and pays families enough to enjoy a basic but acceptable standard of living.
“However it is important that we consider this very carefully in the context of ongoing Government budget cuts and our commitment to protecting vital services in South Tyneside.”
The council established an Independent Wage Commission in June last year to examine the benefits and challenges of adopting a living wage in the borough.
That commission found that a living wage would make a positive contribution to reducing poverty and promoting well-being among low paid workers.
Now the local authority will look to implement a phased introduction of the new hourly rate.
From April 2015 its the lowest paid employees will receive £7.11 per hour – representing an immediate increase up to a maximum of 67p per hour.
Coun Malcolm added:
“Of course we would have liked to implement the full living wage with immediate effect but given the unprecedented cuts imposed on the authority we have had to take a prudent approach.
“When we have further information on our future funding, we will sit down with our trade union colleagues to consider the affordability of implementing the full Living Wage from 2016 with a view to eliminating low pay across the council’s workforce.”
Rachel Reeves MP said:
“It’s brilliant that South Tyneside council is making this important commitment. It shows that even in tough times when there is less money around we can make choices that help build a fairer society.”
Professor Keith Shaw of Northumbria University, chair of South Tyneside’s Independent Living Wage Commission, said:
“South Tyneside Council’s support for the Independent Commission’s recommendation to introduce a Living Wage will make a real difference to the lives of people living and working in South Tyneside.
“In recommending its introduction, the commission were convinced that increasing the income of the lowest paid employees would make an important contribution to reducing the scale of in-work poverty, have a positive impact on the life chances of families, young people and women and, by increasing local spending power, also boost the local economy in South Tyneside.
“The council are to be commended for their support of such an important initiative.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 17 Oct 2014