Care home staff write en-masse to council CEO and leading Conservatives to lay bare the truth and strength of feeling against changes to pay and conditions that will impact massively on their lives

  Posted: 09.05.21 at 12:10 by The Editor

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BELEAGURED staff at a council care home have come together in a united attack on Thurrock Council and delivered a damning indictment of how it has previously cut terms and conditions and now wants to make cuts go even deeper under a programme it brands as 'Modernising Reward'.

Thurrock Nub News reported in April on the story of one worker at Collins House who told our readers of the ‘brutal way’ staff were being treated by the council and their heroics in tackling the Covid virus head on were being thrown back in their face.

The council responded by pouring scorn on the claims and dismissing the story as not representative of the truth. An unattributed statement from the authority said:” “There were a number of inaccuracies and misleading statements in the worker’s story.”

That was vehemently rejected by the article's author, other members of the Collins House team and the worker's statement were back by the GMB union.

Now dozens of staff at the Corringham home have put their signatures to a letter to the council’s chief executive Lyn Carpenter, MP Jackie Doyle-Price and portfolio holder for social care Cllr James Halden.

It confirms the deep-seated anger of the staff team at Collins House (which is reflected by many care workers across the borough) and warns that workers have now had enough after previous attempts to cut their pay and they will draw a line in the sand and fight the latest proposals.

Cllr James Halden, Council CEO Lyn carpenter and MP Jackie Doyle-Price.

Thurrock Nub News has had sight of the submission to the council and three pages of signatures of council employees attached to it. So far the staff have received no response from any of the recipients of the letter, or the council itself.

Staff from Collins House were among those who recently protested as part of a GMB union rally outside the civic offices in Grays – which again failed to draw any response from the council. GMB members say they are now ‘reluctantly’ considering joining members of the Unite union at the council who have gone on strike.

Here is the full transcript of the Collins House workers’ letter, address to Cllr Halden but repeated to the other two recipients:

We are writing to you as the councillor and cabinet member responsible for adult social care at Thurrock Council as we are very concerned about the pay review being proposed by Thurrock Council. We would like to reiterate some of the implications that these proposals will have on us personally but also consequently on the standards of care we provide.

Financial hardship

Care workers venting their anger outside the civic offices

The proposed reduction in shift allowance may seem insignificant to some but for all those impacted at Collins House the proposal presents real financial struggle. In actuality what might seem a small percentage, works out to be a hugely significant sum. A sum that we simply cannot afford to lose, for many dire consequences are imminent.

We have all been impacted by the pandemic, some to a huge extent with partners made redundant or reliant on furlough etc.

Many of us simply cannot withstand this loss.

Henceforth, many colleagues will be left with no alternatives.
Some will be forced to opt out of the pension scheme as contributions become an impossible expense, a drop in pay will also mean a drop in contributions and reduce the pension currently expected for those who continue to contribute.

Others will have to seek additional employment or apply for benefits as we can no longer meet our basic costs of living.
Other colleagues may find the cost of childcare simply impossible to meet and be forced to reduce hours or even leave the service.

The fear of debt, rent arrears and a significantly reduced standard of living looms.

Additionally we would like to point out that the Collins House workforce is predominantly female. All of the night care team are female. A disproportionate impact on women is surely not an aim for Thurrock council.

Furthermore the predicted steep rise in inflation in the coming months will simply erode the purchasing power of our wages further. Thus the staff team at Collins who have worked tirelessly caring for the residents throughout this pandemic will be in an even worse position. Now is not the time for these proposals, the consequences they will have, at an already uncertain time, are dismal.

Health

The aforementioned financial consequences alone are significant but consider the mental implications that such a strain will have. The stress of not knowing how we will meet all our liabilities, the stress of not knowing how we will feed our families and the stress that comes with job insecurity.

What was once a secure and valued position now appears unappreciated and presents an overwhelming fear that this proposal is only a first domino in a long line of a cost-cutting crusade by Thurrock Council.

Prolonged stress hugely increases the risk of mental health and medical problems: anxiety, depressions, sleep deprivation to name a few. Considering the council’s strong public support for mental health it would seem prudent that they were both the active cause of some of these issues.

I would also like to bring to your attention the health implications of shift work (in particular night shifts for whom the proposed cuts are particularly harsh). Research has shown that the consequences of working outside standard daytime hours results in a disruption of circadian rhythm, fatigue, sleeping difficulties, disturbed appetite/digestion, reliance on sedatives and or stimulants and social and domestic difficulties. Evidently working shifts takes a toll mentally and physically and to reduce shift allowance seems wholly unjustified with little regard to the difficulty of working these shifts.

Staff morale
Furthermore, the council does not appear to recognise the high costs of low staff morale; felling undervalued with little remuneration will hinder staff morale. A sharp decline in productivity, teamwork and attitude is sure to follow. In addition it could result in people leaving the profession altogether. This would be detrimental to the service, as we will struggle to replace highly skilled and experienced staff.

Standard of care
Mental health and low staff morale are principal reasons for absenteeism in the workplace. These proposals are likely to increase absenteeism, which could lead to many shifts being understaffed. The result, our residents no longer receiving the high level of care we provide here at Collins House.

Low staff morale could result in colleagues feeling less inclined to cover additional shifts to help with shortages, to go that extra mile as they feel undervalued and unappreciated.

Staff who feel valued, motivated and are willing to go above and beyond their role are vital to the high standard of service at Collins House.

Thus, at times, it may be impossible to cover staff shortages and should shortages become a regular occurrence it increases the risk of mistakes, safeguarding and subsequent complaints about the standard of care provided.

Current implications
The ongoing uncertainty surrounding the proposals has unsurprisingly had a very negative effect on us all as a team.

Thurrock Council’s apparent lack of transparency regarding the proposals and failure to alleviate concerns has created an enormous burden on us all as we anxiously await news that our pay will be slashed with little chance of open dialogue regarding the matter.

This burden has been exacerbated as concerns have been dismissed as ‘speculation’.

Not a single representative of Thurrock Council has come to Collins House to discuss these proposals with staff, which also adds to the increasing concern that these are not proposals at all but are in fact a blatant attempt to brutally cut the wages of front-line heroes without any consideration for the wider impact on staff and quality of service we provide.

It would be reassuring for the council to arrange a meeting where we can address these concerns without the need for further action.

We have also been informed that the proposed cuts are only targeted at the lower pay bands, those who have been working tirelessly on the frontline without compliant while the higher earners, some of whom have worked remotely in the safety of their homes face no cuts or uncertainty.

This is wholly unacceptable and a mockery of those who risked their own lives during the pandemic.

Whilst the council looks forward to the opening of their £10 million new office building we as a staff team, the frontline workers, can only foresee real financial struggle, whilst concurrently feeling undervalued and unheard.

In light of this, it feels as though the council is simply using the pandemic as an opportunity to cut costs.

We, as a staff team here at Collins House, have worked incredibly hard throughout this pandemic, putting our families and ourselves at risk to care for residents who were Covid positive. Many of us subsequently contracted the virus directly because of our job roles and became unwell.

Some of our colleagues were hospitalised and were at real risk of losing their lives. Some are suffering from the long after effects of the virus and it may be a long time until they are fully themselves again.
Some of us have had bereavement counselling to help us cope with the devastating effects the outbreak within the home caused.

To be rewarded with pay cuts is a low blow and casts doubts on all thanks received thus far. Perhaps they were just empty gestures.

Hitherto the council has made several attempts to reduce our pay. In order to reduce overtime pay casual care staff were employed and staff who wanted overtime had to obtain a casual care contract and work overtime at a reduced rate if they were to be guaranteed care hours.

There was the removal of our paid breaks. We accepted these changes with little resistance.

However, these proposals are overwhelming and a step too far. They are simply not viable and we will not accept them.

The planned cuts from Thurrock Council are contained in an official report which can be viewed here.

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