The Welsh government has issued proposals to limit the use of zero-hours contracts for home care staff as part of consultative plans to improve the recruitment and retention of the workforce.
The proposals also include ideas to improve staff career pathways, crack down on non-payment of the minimum wage, ensure employers pay staff for travel time and stop visits from being cut short.
They follow the passage of legislation this week designed to limit most home care visits to 30 minutes. The Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016, which became law this week, states that visits should be at least 30 minutes unless specific conditions apply. It will be implemented by April 2019.
Poor employment terms linked to poor care
The proposals are based on Welsh government-commissioned research, carried out by Manchester Metropolitan University’s Business School, which found that poor working conditions were negatively affecting the quality of care
Researchers found that zero-hour contracts predominated in independent sector home care, but had a negative impact on continuity of care for service users because of the problems created by staff turning down work or quitting due to job insecurity.
The Welsh government has put forward a number of alternative proposals to limit zero-hours contracts for consultation, including:
- Issuing guidance to local authorities to set expectations for providers to limit zero-hour contracts.
- Setting rules requiring providers to limit the contracts only to staff who want them.
- Setting rules requiring providers to offer staff fixed-hour contracts after they had been working with the employer for a set period of time.
- Setting rules limiting the maximum number of hours or proportion of domiciliary care delivered through zero-hours contracts and asking the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales to inspect providers on their compliance with this.
Minimum wage compliance
Proposals to ensure providers pay staff the national minimum wage – including payment for travel time – include asking local authorities to require providers to show how they are paying the minimum wage and asking the CSSIW to inspect providers on their compliance.
It will become more challenging for providers to comply with minimum wage legislation when the new “national living wage” comes into force in April 2016, setting a wage floor of £7.20 for people aged over 25, above the current minimum of £6.70 for over-21s.
“I am aware of real challenges facing the social care sector,” said health and social services minister Mark Drakeford. “The rise in the national minimum wage over the next few years will place new financial pressures on the sector.
“The Welsh Government wants to understand the impact of its proposals on the sustainability and viability of care provision. But ultimately everyone in the sector agrees that social care should be a positive and rewarding career option.”
Better career prospects
Under existing plans, all domiciliary care workers should be registered with the Care Council for Wales – due to be renamed Social Care Wales – by 2020.
The latest consultation suggests making it a requirement for home care staff to hold a particular qualification – for example, a level 2 or level 3 diploma in health and social care – as a condition of registration, to drive up workforce standards and boost career prospects.
Other ideas include developing a career pathway for home care workers, similar to that for social workers, setting out how they can progress from role to role and improve their skills and qualifications.
Curbing ‘call clipping’
Finally, the proposals also include ideas to curb “call clipping”, where home care visits are cut short because workers are late or leave early to make their next appointment. Ideas include requiring local authorities to set out in contracts how much time is being allocated for contact time with a client and how much for travel, and ensuring this is set out clearly in provider rotas.