Fears are growing that staff terms and conditions could worsen and standards of care could fall after ailing care home operator Southern Cross announced plans to shed 3,000 jobs.
The company, which is fighting for its life, revealed this week it was considering slashing its workforce by 7% and the “potential implementation” of a standard contract of employment for all care workers as part of its plan to improve performance.
Among those affected are nurses, caterers and cleaners.
The GMB and Unison, which between them represent more than a quarter of the total Southern Cross workforce, fear this means worsening terms and conditions for staff and an “unavoidable” decline in care quality.
Unison, which represents 990 members across 440 homes, said the move underlined its concerns about the role of private companies in the care sector. The union added that it was a “disgrace” for members’ pay and terms and conditions to be under threat and for residents to fear the loss of their homes.
“The care sector is hugely labour intensive, and there is no doubt that job losses on this scale will mean elderly people in Southern Cross homes get a lower standard of care and some homes may be at risk of closure,” said Unison’s general secretary, Dave Prentis.
The GMB, which represents around 11,000 of the Southern Cross workforce, demanded the government step in.
General secretary Paul Kenny said: “This is the start of a disaster for the residents as well as a kick in the teeth for the staff.”
Judy Downey, chair of The Relatives & Residents Association (R&RA), said: “These cuts are going to add enormous anguish to an already intolerable situation.”
Shadow care services minister Emily Thornberry said: “Given this very worrying news the government should give a guarantee to residents and their families that there will be no fall in standards or safety in Southern Cross Homes.”
Southern Cross insisted that the “proposed reduction in staff numbers will not jeopardise the continuity or quality of care provided to the company’s 31,000 residents”, though would not be drawn further on what the standard contract means for staff.
“We are engaging with colleagues to put in place the best possible staffing model for our future needs, and one which fully embraces the best practice available to us,” said chief executive Jamie Buchan.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the government is monitoring the situation but insisted: “This is a commercial sector problem and we look to the commercial sector to solve it.”
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