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CaSWO for Care Workers

An Interview with Billie Cooper, Support Worker

 

Billie Cooper is a Unite Rep, she works for a charity as a support worker and has played a leading role in bringing carers together from Unite and other trade unions to protest against low pay and job insecurity. She is part of a combine which calls itself CaSWO! 

 

Recently Billie successfully helped workers at her workplace win a claim for the London Living Wage. Here she explains the pressures that ordinary carers face both at work and in their life outside work trying to pay the bills and what steps she is taking to address those issues. 

 

 

CaSWO are organising a series of protests to take place on the 4th September when they will be protesting outside the Dept. of Health and Social Care in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Preston. They are calling for support from trade unionists, socialists and other activists.

 

Billie, how did CaSWO come about and who is involved? 

 

CaSWO! started as in response to the PPE crisis that emerged at the beginning of the pandemic and was initially called the Care Workers Coronavirus Action Group. 

 

The failures of our social care system, however, pre-date coronavirus. While we were brought together by this issue, the scope of our meetings and the ambitions for what we wanted to achieve quickly grew. 

 

 

We are trade unionists and one of our demands is for trade union recognition for all care and support workers. A lot of us are very involved in union organising within our workplaces and active in our branches. However, we have also found it challenging at times to do the sort of organising we felt was needed within the structures of our individual unions. 

 

CaSWO is made up of workers from across the trade unions and the UK, we can pool our resources, knowledge, skills, and networks to build a strong and formidable care workers movement and ensure our fight remains part of the public conversation even now that the clapping has stopped. 

 

What are the main issues facing Care Workers right now?

 

There are a lot of issues to tackle, but paying us more would be an excellent start! The average care worker receives £8.50 per hour.  Last year, 73% of care workers received less than the Living Wage. In London, it was 90%. The Supreme Court’s March 2021 ruling on sleep shifts also means that we are the only UK workers who are legally paid below the minimum wage whilst in the workplace.

 

 

Even those of us "lucky" enough to be receiving a Living Wage are still struggling because the wage set by the Living Wage Foundation is still too low. CaSWO! believes our work is worth no less than £15 per hour. This would bring us up to the average UK income. Considering the work we do is arguably some of society's most important, challenging, and socially necessary, we believe this is more than fair. 

 

What support have you had from trade union leaders on the issues that you are fighting on?

 

We are lucky to have received support from many corners of the union movement. A lot of us are part of branches that have been very supportive and there are committee members who have offered us invaluable guidance and encouragement. 

 

 

While social care has been historically difficult to organise, we are increasingly part of the conversation. We are a workforce that is 1.5 million strong and growing and there is an increased recognition that while it is challenging we are far from un-organisable.

 

There is definitely still a lot of work to do. Union membership in the sector remains low and there are sections of the workforce we are failing to reach, but we are optimistic that Trade Union leaders are prepared to engage with the challenge.

 

What are CaSWO's main demands?

 

1. Social Care Workers deserve decent pay! We demand at least £15 an hour with holiday pay based on normal wages and pension parity with public sector workers.
 

2. Fair Contracts for Social Care Workers! Contracts of employment, including minimum hours to be led by the needs of workers and those in receipt of care and support.


3. Full sick pay for all Social Care Workers! Occupational sick pay for all, including full pay protection for any absence arising from COVID-19.


4. Health & safety at work! Safe workplaces with genuine support for every aspect of workers' health and wellbeing.


5. Full Acknowledgement of our keyworkers rights! Care and support workers should be entitled to benefits including access to Keyworker housing and eligibility for Low Cost Home Ownership Schemes.


6. Trade Union recognition for all care and support workers! Trade union access to all social care workplaces and the right to full union recognition.


7. Sectoral collective bargaining rights for care and support workers! Mandatory sectoral collective bargaining relevant to all governmental and devolved jurisdictions across the UK.


8. Democratising Social Care! Social Care to be brought into democratic public ownership, guided by co-production of workers, disabled people and those in receipt of support.

 

What do you hope to achieve by protesting on the 4th September?

 

Through our Day of Action, we are making our work visible and demanding recognition. Care work has been overlooked and undervalued for too long. We are a huge workforce, larger than even the NHS, and yet our struggles have been disregarded. We want to inspire others to get involved, take action and demand their worth! 

 

What can other trade unionists do to support and help with this initiative?

 

Come along to our meetings; invite us to speak at yours; follow and show support for us on social media; attend and publicise our events; get your branches to affiliate to us. We welcome anyone that is interested in working with us or in starting a conversation to get in touch!

 

Would you consider strike action if your demands are not met?

 

 

In the past 6 months, we've already seen lots of care and support workers striking! 

 

In April the North London Sage workers went on strike, demanding £12 per hour, full sick pay, and union recognition. Not long after, workers at the homelessness charity, St Mungos, followed suit this time around issues of bullying. As union membership and confidence grow amongst the workforce, I believe we will see more care and support workers taking industrial action. 

 

How can care workers who are not already involved in CaSWO join in?

 

You can reach out to us via Facebook, Twitter, or email us at careworkersorganise@gmail.com. We host regular meetings and there are the usual mailing lists and WhatsApps groups you can join. We're always keen to connect with those working and organising within the sector. We would really, really like to talk to you!

 

20 August 2021

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