Monday, 24 February 2020

Who Are You Calling Unskilled?

Janice Turner is incensed at the country's care workers being described as 'unskilled'.

And if you ask me, the Times columnist is spot on when she says that caring is regarded as low-grade because it's the kind of work that women used to do for free.

Well those days are over, I'm glad to say, and it makes a nonsense of the Scottish Government decision to award a lower cost of living pay increase to carers and other council workers. 

The truth is that carers have been treated as second class citizens for years - and they have every right to be angry.

How dare they call care workers unskilled

It’s a disgrace that empathetic, selfless staff who give our loved ones a dignified end could earn more on the tills at Aldi

By Janice Turner - The Times

The carers at my mother’s nursing home did a course on dying this week. They learnt not just how to nurse a fading old person, about pain relief and legal protocols, but delicate matters I’d never considered: if a family is fractured, siblings not speaking, how do you choreograph visits, who do you give bad news to first?

I say “learnt” but the Pams, Sharons and Lynnes who attend my mum already have PhDs in death. They know, as their residents know, it’s the last stop on the line. To make the journey comfortable, let alone convince passengers to forget their destination, is a remarkable feat of patience, emotional vigilance, of repeating yourself ever louder, getting calories inside someone who won’t eat, retaining an old man’s dignity while you give him a bath.

If my mum slips down in the bed I can’t pull her back up without hurting her. I call the carers and they come, one each side. They fluff pillows then disappear into a darkened room where another old lady is motionless, her family gathering. Among all the tears and shit and fear, while looking mortality square on, they dispense jokes and tea.

It is absurd that the government categorises me, sitting on my backside writing this, as “skilled” and the (mainly) women who will gently guide my mother — most of our mothers — towards her maker as “unskilled”. This is not, as some have said, an administrative glitch in the new immigration rules which conflates low-paid with low-skilled. The truth is that if we regarded caring as skilful we wouldn’t pay less for it than working a till at Aldi.

Forget that the care industry demands training in nutrition, physical handling of patients, safeguarding, continence and, with disabled adults, managing complex apparatus like tracheostomy and gastrostomy tubes or ventilators, duties which when performed in hospitals are deemed high-skill tasks. The truth is that caring is seen as low-grade because it is work women used to do for free: a natural expression of our feminine empathy and selflessness. Indeed I’m asked, inevitably by men, why I don’t abandon my career to nurse my mum (as if I would have a clue).

“Wages for housework” was seen as an extreme 1970s feminist demand, yet it materialised as paid care work. Then, when women’s work choices expanded, we started getting degrees and entering male professions, employers simply sought other cheaper women to take their place. Care agencies went on mass recruiting drives in the Philippines in search of biddable women who’d toil uncomplainingly for long hours, far from their own families.

After the government’s immigration plans were announced, the Lib Dem’s former leader in the European parliament, Caroline Voaden, tweeted in entitled despair: “Who’ll wash the hospital bedpans? Who’ll clean our offices at night? Who’ll feed, bathe and care for our most vulnerable?” She sounded like the dowager countess in Downton Abbey bemoaning that these days “you can’t get the staff”. How will we cope without cheap EU migrants doing dirty work for less than most native workers would bear?

The government says that, perversely, it is Labour upholding the globalised free market using a limitless pool of cheap labour to suppress wages, while the Conservatives are simply allowing the market to “level up”. After Brexit, agencies will be compelled to pay more for British carers. Isn’t that a good thing? Well perhaps, if there weren’t already 122,000 vacancies in a sector with a huge staff churn.

Who wouldn’t like British care workers to be better paid? Perhaps more importantly it is reassuring for our parents, in their confusion and dotage, to be surrounded by people who share their background, accent, references and sense of humour, which for my mum means northern ladies who know how to toast a tea-cake. Women like her daughter, only nicer. That is not to diminish the dedication of the Magdas and Kajas who’ve cared for her too. But the notion that care should be outsourced to citizens of poorer economies because we hold it in low esteem does not seem a progressive plan.

Besides, care homes will find it hard to pass on extra wage costs to customers. They might squeeze a bit more out of richer residents with pensions and assets. But these “self payers” are already subsidising residents without capital, for whom local authorities foot their bills. With their budgets cut, councils pay homes what amounts to staff costs far below the minimum wage. For homes to offer better salaries the government must drastically increase council funding for social care. Otherwise chains of nursing homes will tumble, with responsibility for frail elderly landing once more on the NHS — or us.

No wonder it is seen as a downbeat job when care homes are never in the news except for an abuse scandal. Doctors and nurses receive public thanks and kudos for treating cancer patients or performing breakthrough operations. But care’s unglamorous quotidian business remains invisible. Except to those who have seen what carers do and, since we are living longer, that ultimately will be most of us. So, as with Teach First or the “We Are the NHS, We Are Nurses” recruitment campaigns, the government should raise its profile.

Tell human stories about the young man who quells an aggressive dementia patient by dancing her round the room; the home help who although ill and overworked still visits my mum unpaid; the many who cradle and console, break bad news, know when to withdraw and when to administer a hug; those who hold our parents’ hands at the last because we didn’t get there in time. The very opposite of unskilled.

Glasgow - Decade Long Failure Of Leadership (12/02/20)

In September 2017 Scotland's public spending watchdog (the Accounts Commission) concluded after a special investigation that a 'decade long failure of leadership by local and central government' was responsible for the debacle over equal pay. 

Throughout those 10 long years Labour controlled Glasgow City Council and the SNP ran the Scottish Government.

And as regular readers know, I have been a fierce critic of Labour in the past, just as I've pointed out that the new SNP administration were wrong to try and overturn the decision that the Council's WPBR pay arrangements were 'unfit for purpose'.  

In December 2017 Glasgow City Council launched an appeal in the Court of Session which was also rejected unanimously by Scotland's highest civil court - finally paving the way for a negotiated settlement of GCC's outstanding equal pay claims with all party support. 

So I think it's fair to say there are equal pay 'skeletons' in every political party's closet which brings me back to the business of 'leadership' at both local and national level.

The next phase of the fight for equal pay in Glasgow will focus on the period from April 2018 to April 2021 when the Council's 'unfit for purpose' WPBR pay arrangements are due to be replaced with a new, non-discriminatory job evaluation (JE) scheme.

As well as the potential higher cost of Glasgow's new pay arrangements going forward from April 2021 the Council faces a liability for employees working under the old WPBR regime from April 2018.

The big question is whether Glasgow City Council should pick up the bill on its own or whether the City should be entitled to expect some significant help from the Scottish Government.

I know what I think, but what do others have to say on the subject? - drop me a note, in confidence of course, to: 


'Get Behind Glasgow in 2020'

I've been thinking long and hard about the need for a big, popular campaign in 2020 aimed at restoring national pay bargaining for Scotland's local government workers.

Why is such a campaign needed?

Because Scotland's lowest paid council workers - carers, cleaners, catering staff, clerical workers, classroom assistants etc - have been treated as second class citizens for the past 20 years.

The fight for equal pay in Scotland's councils

In 1999 low paid council workers, in predominantly female jobs, were promised a new deal and new 'Single Status' pay arrangements based on the principle of 'equal pay for work of equal value'.

What happened next?

Council employers reneged on their promises and in 2017 Scotland's public spending watchdog, the Accounts Commission, issued a damning report which concluded that this landmark pay deal  represented a decade of failure on the part of of both central and local government.

By contrast Scotland's school teachers received their own landmark McCrone pay deal in 2000 which was fully funded to the tune of £800 million a year - or £16.8 billion by 2020.

Why focus on Glasgow?

Glasgow City Council's 'new' Single Status pay arrangements in 2007 were condemned as 'unfit for purpose by the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court, in 2017 after a long, costly battle in and out of the courts.

Scotland's largest council is now replacing its discriminatory WPBR pay arrangements in 2021 with a new Scottish Joint Council (Gauge) job evaluation (JE) scheme which was developed with public funds and recommended for use by all Scottish councils in 1999.

Glasgow's trade unions are fully involved in this process and are calling for the new pay arrangements in Glasgow to become a role model and set a new standard for all 32 Scottish councils.

Why is national leadership and national bargaining so important? 

Because it protects workers rights and prevents exploitation:
  • School teachers in Glasgow are paid the same as school teachers in Grangemouth and Galashiels.
  • MSPs in Glasgow are paid the same as MSPs in Grangemouth and Galashiels
  • MPs in Glasgow are paid the same as MPs in Grangemouth and Galashiels
  • Elected councillors in Glasgow are paid the same as elected councillors in Grangemouth and Galashiels  
So why should low paid council workers in Scotland - carers, cleaners, catering staff, clerical workers, classroom assistants - be treated any differently?

Get Behind Glasgow in 2020!

A high profile, public campaign to restore national bargaining needs to be led by the trade unions, but there is good reason to put this demand at the heart of  the ongoing campaign to deliver 'equal pay for work of equal value' in Glasgow - and in all Scottish councils.


Equal Pay - 'Decade Long Failure' (07/09/17)

The Herald's Tom Gordon reports on a special investigation by the Accounts Commission which concludes that a 'decade long failure of leadership by local and central government' is responsible for the continuing debacle over equal pay. 

Glasgow City Council, Scotland's largest, has been fighting a desperate battle against equal pay for the past ten years and its pay arrangements are still shrouded in secrecy - as opposed to being 'open, honest and transparent'.

The Court of Session recently judged Glasgow's revised pay arrangements and its in-house job evaluation scheme (JES), introduced in 2007 to be 'unfit for purpose' - as a result the number of equal pay claims in Glasgow is growing by the day.

If Scotland's largest council can't or won't get its act together, maybe the solution in Glasgow is to send in the Accounts Commission to uncover what has really been going on for the past 10 years.

Watchdog report exposes litany of failures behind £1bn equal pay bill

By Tom Gordon - Scottish Political Editor, The Herald

Glasgow City Chambers

A DECADE long failure of leadership by central and local government has left taxpayers with a bill of more than £1billion for equal pay claims from female council staff, it has emerged.

In a damning study of politicians stalling and ducking responsibilities, the Accounts Commission said around £750m had been spent settling pay claims since 2004.

However a further 27,000 claims are still live, including a recent one from more than 6000 workers in Glasgow which could cost the city £500m, pushing the final bill far higher.

The watchdog blamed “a lack of collective national leadership to overcome challenges and address equal pay issues in a timely way”, with ministers failing to give councils extra funds to help stave off challenges, and authorities in denial about the scale of the problem.

Male-dominated trade unions protecting the higher wages of male workers, often through spurious bonuses, were also a factor.

In order to fix pay anomalies a UK-wide deal, the Single Status Agreement, was established in 1999 to unify pay structures.

Councils were given until 2004 to carry out job evaluations so that women in roles such as caring, cleaning and catering were no longer paid less than men doing equivalent work such as gardening, gravedigging or bin collection.

However only one council met the deadline, and it was not until 2010 that all of Scotland’s councils had single status in place.

Without funds from central government to harmonise pay scales properly, councils failed to make the issue a priority and skimped on deals, sometimes adding to the discrimination by allowing bad practices to continue in order to avoid industrial action.

They also paid 50,000 women £232m in compromise deals to give up claims to back pay.

There were “often of a relatively low value” compared to what they were due.

Partly because many offers were inadequate, and partly because no-win no-fee lawyers became involved, around 70,500 equal pay claims were lodged against councils after 2004.

Of these around 27,000 are outstanding, and new claims are still being brought.

Highlighting the painfully slow progress, the report said: “Thousands of claims currently in the system in Scotland have been live for over a decade.”

The watchdog also complained it had faced “considerable difficulty” due to a lack of good quality data relating to the implementation of equal pay.

It recommended that councils ensure all pay arrangements are fair and transparent.

Commission member Pauline Weetman said: "Equal pay is an incredibly important issue and a legal duty for Scotland's councils to eliminate decades of inequality. However, implementation of equal pay has been a substantial challenge for local government."

The council umbrella body Cosla said it welcomed the report’s recognition that councils had faced “complex judicial processes and huge costs” as they tried to deliver equal pay.

“Councils have endeavoured to settle all legitimate claims as quickly as possible,” it said.

Equal pay campaigner Mark Irvine, who has helped many female workers bring claims against council bosses, said the issue remained a “national disgrace”.

He said: “The report hits the nail on the head. There was an agreement to end discrimination in 1999 and that it’s still happening in 2017 is a terrible indictment of Cosla. Major councils ganged up to prevent low-paid women getting what they were promised 20 years ago.”

The public sector union Unison said the report’s findings were “shocking”.

Scotland regional manager Peter Hunter said: “This study demonstrates the cost of delay and dereliction of duty. If this report compels those remaining councils to resolve outstanding claims... the Accounts Commission will have played a vital role.”

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie added: “This is a complex process but far too many people, mainly women in low paid jobs, are waiting far too long for the money they are due.

"The Scottish Government needs to work with councils to seek a speedier solution.”

“It is time for this legacy of inequality to be resolved.”