Union tells Southern Cross staff to refuse working changes

Troubled care home operator Southern Cross is facing an industrial dispute after the GMB union advised its members to refuse to sign up to revised working conditions.

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Troubled care home operator Southern Cross is facing an industrial dispute after the GMB union advised its members to refuse to sign up to revised working conditions.

The company is proposing to shed up to 3,000 jobs from its 44,000-strong workforce and has acknowledged that some staff will face inferior working conditions through the implementation of a standardised employment contract.

GMB, which represents 11,000 people, has warned that the company’s proposals could result in reduced pay, holidays and sick pay.

The emerging dispute comes with landlords, lenders and Southern Cross having agreed this week to work “towards a consensual solution” for resolving the company’s financial woes over the next four months. This is likely to see much of its current portfolio being run by other operators.

In a letter sent to all landlords immediately prior to the Southern Cross deal, GMB national officer Justin Bowden said: “We have instructed our members to refuse to sign up to any changes in their working conditions.”

“The cuts in working conditions proposed by Southern Cross in their consultation paper will have a major impact on the quality of care our members can provide – despite their dedication and commitment to the residents of the homes,” he added.

The GMB has said the proposed changes to terms and conditions would save £20m. Other proposals include new work patterns and greater flexibility in the main place of work and, said the GMB, the introduction of “general services assistants” who will both prepare food and clean toilets.

The GMB has a scheduled meeting with Southern Cross next Tuesday on the specific proposals but has also called for more urgent talks to clarify what precisely will happen to the company.

In the letter to landlords, Bowden stressed that the rights of staff transferred to new employers to retain their terms and conditions were guaranteed by law, through the Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment (Tupe) regulations.

Last week, Southern Cross chief executive Jamie Buchan said the job losses were designed to address over-staffing in some services and that these would ultimately allow it to invest in improving care standards.

Speaking to Community Care, he said the company needed to rationalise the 24 employment contracts it had inherited.

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