Working for 70 hours, paid for 45

Submitted by Matthew on 8 February, 2012 - 12:05

I work for a private company that provides care in the home for the elderly. The organisation is one of many in my town which provides the care that once would have been provided by the council. Because most care has been privatised there is now a highly diminished council care structure.

There is a stark difference between conditions for council workers and privatised workers. Council workers will even say that they’re not working too late in the evening “thanks to you guys”.

Working conditions at a private company defy belief. I work on average 45-50 payable hours per week, despite not opting out of the 48 hour working week when I signed my contract. However these are also only contact hours.

Work is given on an almost “self-employed” basis. I only get paid for the time I am in a client’s house, not travel time, or gaps in my rota. Taking all that into account I probably work up to 70-75 hours per week. Recently a lot of my work days have been from 7am to 9 or 10pm.

Due to me technically only being “on work time” during the time I am in a client’s house, the company gets around legal issues about providing breaks and maximum working hours. I am also not given a petrol allowance for most areas I cover.

These long shifts take place one day after another, with no thought to how much break I get in between.

These conditions are the direct product of privatisation, as the council only pays the contracted company for time spent with the client. It also allows the company to keep us on casual zero hours contracts, and not as salaried workers.

Dividing up the needs of clients into 10, 15 or 30 minute blocks means that clients often don’t get the care they need. For example, I could arrive at a client’s house to find an issue has arisen since the last carer visited (fall, become ill, soiled themselves etc.), I will have to deal with this issue and will not left time to do the basic things I was meant to be there for (washing up, making their dinner).

Calls are packed in so tightly that often I have been given impossible rotas that assume I can be across town (at least a 10 minute drive) in five minutes.

That’s if I get a rota at all! Recently rotas that are meant to arrive on Thursday to start the following Monday (too short notice as it is) have not been arriving until Monday or Tuesday of the week they are for. There is a complete lack of freedom to plan a personal life, or challenge issues such as overload of work.

There are big issues over sickness. As the company is chronically understaffed it seems that even one person being ill overstretches resources.

The company has a mass text messaging system, notionally to let carers know medication details for clients, or changes to rotas. However this messaging system is mostly used to bully carers. We often get messages threatening us about the number of people off sick. The most hilarious message I’ve ever had said: “Carers, you do not work at Morrisons, you work with vulnerable adults, being sick and handing back shifts at short notice will not be tolerated”. How I’m meant to be sick at long notice, I’m not entirely sure!

Over the Christmas period we were informed that they would not accept even one day’s sick leave without a doctor’s note, and that they were going to do “welfare visits”. When they were challenged on this they demurred, but we can only assume it was a threat to turn up at our homes to make sure we really were sick.

Clearly all sense of their legal responsibilities has left them. But the lack of trade union organisation has allowed them to get away with it.

As a socialist I have been agitating for colleagues to join a union. Several have, however the staffing turn over is so high that many have left. It is incredibly hard organising in the private care sector, I rarely see other carers and our work is atomised.

We need to be organised in these workplaces but we also need to have a wider campaign to bring care back into the public sector so that it can be better organised.

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