Allied Healthcare, the UK’s largest home care provider, has offered its 15,000 employees the option of switching from zero hours to guaranteed hours contracts by April 2014.
But the company has been criticised for failing to guarantee staff payment for the time they spend travelling between appointments.
Allied Healthcare announced yesterday that it would offer staff new contracts under which they would be guaranteed a minimum number of hours per week.
Contracted hours will be optional and subject to qualification criteria, including a three-month training and probation period.
The provider said this was the “first step” in the journey to raise standards across the home care sector.
Under zero hours contracts, employees are not guaranteed any work and jobs can be cancelled without prior notice.
The growing use of such arrangements, paired with the non-payment of travel time between appointments, has led in several cases to care workers being paid below the national minimum wage.
Research by King’s College London suggests this may apply to at least 150,000 care workers.
Darryn Gibson, chief executive of Allied Healthcare, said: “Recruiting, training and retaining the right people is key to those receiving care and to our business. We are raising standards across the sector.
“Today’s announcement is the first in a range of changes that we propose to make to ensure that our care workers feel valued in their roles.”
However, speaking on Channel 4 News last night, Rochelle Monte, a home care worker employed by Allied Healthcare, said: “I think in principle the idea of guaranteed contracted hours is wonderful, but unless you address the issue of non-payment of travel time, guaranteed hours don’t work.
“You may have to travel 30 minutes between each client. That’s time I’m still at work, but I’m not getting paid.”
Richard Preece, medical director of Allied Healthcare, who was also on the programme, responded: “There is a huge issue for care workers in terms of the clarifying the pay arrangement and that’s being addressed. We can’t do everything at once. We’re today making a first important step on that journey.
“We have already started a branch-by-branch pay review, but we can’t do 200 branches overnight.”
Channel 4’s interviewer pushed him to commit to guaranteeing the payment of travel time for care workers in the future.
Preece replied: “We’re going branch by branch and reviewing pay and part of that process is absolutely clarifying so they can see that they are being paid for their contact time and their travel time between customers.”