This week the strike being held by Care UK workers in Doncaster will pass the 50-day mark making it one of the longest strikes in health and social care history.
The dispute dates back to last September when the learning disabilities service the striking staff work for was outsourced from Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust to Care UK. The Doncaster service provides care for 130 adults.
But Care UK says that the 50-day milestone is misleading, as it adds together two separate disputes the group of workers have had. The first, a bid to keep their former terms and conditions, was resolved in court in Care UK’s favour.
Now, in a second dispute, the staff are fighting for better pay. Some of them say their wages have been slashed by up to 40% by Care UK.
The strikers’ union Unison says the transfer to Care UK saw the staff given a reduced rate for evenings or weekends worked. The staff say the reduced rate means they now earn the same on the striker’s wage paid to them by Unison as they do working for the provider.
Roger Hutt, a senior support worker and Unison representative, said: “I’m losing £500 a month. That’s my mortgage gone. Care UK doesn’t recognise our skills.
“They’re saying they can employ people on minimum wage who can do just as good a job as us. Well, that’s nonsense. It takes a very long time to understand how to work with very complex people with very complex needs.
“If we leave and they bring in people who are not suited to the job description, that’s a real concern for us for the well-being of our service users. They’re putting people at immediate risk.”
Going on strike has been difficult to do professionally, he added: “I’ve done this job all my life but, like a lot of people in this dispute, I’m having to walk away from the people I care for. They’re like part of my extended family. Having to walk away is absolutely heart-breaking. It feels like a bereavement.”
Care UK says that the workers transferred from the NHS trust have had their pay rates maintained at around 50% higher than care workers in comparable services.
“We haven’t touched a penny of their basic salary and have given them a sum of money to cover the difference for fourteen months,” said a Care UK spokeswoman. “We are confident that, with the expected low participation in the industrial action, coupled with our robust contingency plans, people depending on this service will be able to continue to enjoy their normal day-to-day activities.
“This is an essential social care service, funded by a local council, which must find over £100 million of savings. It is not an NHS service funded by an NHS commissioner with ringfenced funding.”