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Thursday, 29 March 2007

Homecarers 'Giving it Large'

A fantastic turnout from Home care Assistants at today's (27th March) full cabinet meeting. Singing, shouting and making themselves heard, 150 of the women turned out at lunchtime joined by service users and other trade unionists. Lining the busy street outside the Council House, Home care Assistants urged passing motorists to honk their horns in support. As the meeting began we packed the public gallery - some had to stand because space was so limited. The Cabinet member responsible for Adult Community Care, Cllr Keily walked in to take his seat to a chorus of 'Keily Out!' and a wall of slow hand clapping.

Stephanie Weston delivered her statement to the Council with dignity and passion. She recieved a standing ovation from everyone in the public gallery and many Councillors in the chamber below stood up to applaud her too for her powerful contribution (read script in post below). After a couple of supportive statements from labour Councillors Holland and Stone, the meeting took a remarkable turn . . .

Councillor from both Labour and Tories moved for a motion of no confidence in the Executive member for Adult Community Care. As it turned out, the Tories abstained from voting so Keily scraped through, but interestingly he didnt command a majority. Of the 60 Councillors only 26 voted to support him but it was enough to outweigh the 22 who voted for him to go.

Our campaign is going really well, we have public support, we have media support, we have service user support, we have the Council clearly rattled. Lets keep up the pressure!

Steph speaks to Council on behalf of Home care Assistants and Service Users

Stephanie Weston, Homecare Assistant and Shop Steward, gives a TV interview before her address to Councillors at the last full council meeting of this financial year:

Her speech. I address this full Council meeting because the financial year has been a complete disaster for the Older vulnerable people of Bristol. On behalf of the Homecare Assistants of the City I offer you this message:

We are disgusted at how we have been treated
We know the public has been misled
We know that service users are at risk
We will not give up fighting for our service users’ right to high quality care.
We will not be bullied out of our decent, public sector jobs, and cast aside into the private sector

We have repeatedly told Cabinet that there are problems with private sector carers. We have given them case after case of workers not knowing how to use a hoist, not knowing what a catheter bag is or a dossett box, almost unbelievably not knowing how to use a microwave.

I list below recent instances when private agency workers have failed turn up in the very sheltered housing unit where I work.

Agency staff arrived over three hours late
Service users didn't get morning medication prompt or breakfast until Council Homecare was alerted at 11am by an angry service user who was still awaiting care. By the time the agency staff had arrived the majority of the work had been covered by your in-house team.

Agency staff failed to arrive for a morning shift
Resulting in the Council Homecare having to scrabble around to fit in the extra work load and an extra member of staff being drafted in on their day off.

Agency staff failed to arrive for an afternoon / evening shift
After the agency member of staff failed to arrive for the start of the shift at 3pm our line manager called the agency to be told that the member of staff was on the way but may be late because of the bus. Our manager phoned them again at 4pm because the agency staff had still not arrived and was told that they didn't know where she was but would send another member of staff within the hour.

Despite promises throughout the evening no agency worker arrived which again caused inconvenience to the service users, extra workload to the member of staff who was on duty and compromised their safety and resulted in a member of staff coming in on her night off.

On all of the above occasions Bristol city home care stepped into the breach, working extra hours, covering extra workload.

On all of the above occasions the agency could not account for the whereabouts of its staff.

We have provided information about the massive turnover in agency staff. CSCI reports repeatedly criticise private agencies for arriving late for service user appointments or even not at all. When one of my own service users became a victim of private agency incompetence the worker did not bother to try and coax her out of bed in the morning and did not encourage her to take her tablets. As a consequence I found her at lunchtime, soaked in urine and struggling to sit upright with no pain relief. The Council has a recruitment freeze on in Home care, to cover a colleague’s maternity leave we have welcomed with open arms 12 different agency workers in just over 8 weeks. Yes, 12 different people to cover the work of one regular, friendly, reliable well-known face. Remember we work with people with dementia, recovering from strokes, the terminally ill. Is it right that they constantly open the door to complete strangers who are often not even in uniform?

So to bring you bang up to date, just this weekend a private agency Homecare has caused an injury to a service user and an injury to a Council Homecare on the same day because they failed to follow the correct manual handling procedure when using a hoist. These workers are not trained adequately, they are not paid adequately, they are not screened adequately, they are not supervised adequately – is it any wonder they are cheaper?

Homecare is a critically important service it should not be sold off at public auction to the cheapest bidder. The Council should be able to manage its own in house service properly; it is your best chance of providing a service to be proud of. In matters of the protection of vulnerable adults, when things go wrong the Council is blamed for its failure to monitor and oversee contracts properly and a multi-agency approach is blamed for failure to communicate properly. When things go wrong people die.

We already have 50% of the service in the private agencies – why can’t we keep 50% in house?

The Officers of the Council admit that the private agencies are overcharging them by at least £800,000 per year.

Part of my role as a Council Homecare is to provide a link between the Adult and Community Care directorate and the service user. If we are farmed out this link will be lost forever and our service users left vulnerable. Strong communication is vital to protect vulnerable adults. In house Homecare provides a lifeline to service users, if they are worried about anything they talk to us and they confide in us and they do that because we are part of the Council and they know that we act on things. The bottom line is that people don’t trust the private sector because they know they are in it for profit. It is just plain wrong for the Council to put cost cutting before the care of Bristol’s most vulnerable people.

You are at your last Council meeting of the year, no doubt thinking about the upcoming local elections. We are thinking about the upcoming local elections too and we will not go away. We will fight for our jobs and our service users. Any one of you who sits quietly and does not speak out against this wrong-headed privatisation is as guilty as the cabinet and the senior officers of Adult Community Care.

Please support Bristol City Council’s Homecare Assistants; please stand up for older and vulnerable people in our City.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Trade Union Statement made to Bristol's ruling Lib Dem Cabinet

Statement to Cabinet 22nd March 2007

Alun Beynon on behalf of the Transport and General Workers Union

This new report is even more of a shambles than the last. We have moved from vagueness about TUPE and firmness about savings; to vagueness about savings and firmness about TUPE ++. However, the Cabinet remains in an untenable position. Given half decent management, the price of an hour of Homecare is dependent upon labour costs. Therefore it is disingenuous to argue that you can protect terms and conditions, including those of new staff, while promising savings which will be spent on more care.

The Homecare workers know that transfer to the private sector would put them in a perilous position. TUPE ++ offers no guarantee of security and when the Council no longer directly employs staff it carries no liability either for making sure TUPE++ prevails or for equal pay. The likelihood is that, if transferred, these loyal women workers, will either be driven out of their jobs or suffer detrimental changes to their pay and conditions.

The independent sector is full of bad employers. The Council’s own research has established that all those aspects of terms and conditions of employment which mark out a bad employer from a good one, are prevalent within this group. Poor pay, no sick pay, holidays fixed at the statutory minimum, no travelling time between service users, no pensions and minimal training. The contrast with the Council’s terms and conditions is stark and illuminating.

However, it’s not too late for the Cabinet to see sense and to acknowledge that the way forward for any socially responsible politician will be to engage with their employees and their representative trade unions. At long last, the Homecare Business Unit is now well managed but years of incompetence will take time to put right. We are making real progress with improvements. In good faith, hundreds of Homecare Assistants have changed their hours of work and modernised their work practises. This management are trying to regain the confidence of employees who have lost trust in the Council, because for many years they were treated an inconvenient burden rather than as dedicated Care professionals. It is vital that trust is rebuilt and, provided this report is rejected, the trade unions will commit themselves to working with the management to ensure that high quality, cost effective care becomes a hallmark of the trust between Bristol City Council and its in-house provision.