On 19 March the Supreme Court ruled that care workers had no right to the minimum wage for “sleep-in” shifts.
Showing an astounding lack of understanding, the judge stated, “The sleep-in worker who is merely present is treated as not working for... national minimum wage purposes”. Care workers, often perched on a sofa, usually barely sleeping, listening out for a call, and regularly interrupted, are not “merely present,” they are doing a vital role and obviously deserve to be paid at least the minimum wage for it.
Mencap, the organisation who challenged the care workers’ claim, said it was doing that to avoid high levels of back pay, which would break the sector.
The care sector is already broken, failing to pay its skilled workers a decent rate, failing to protect residents from infectious disease, and often facing economic crisis due to the loss of residents during the pandemic. Workers should not be made to pay for the crisis. The need for public ownership, funding and democratic control has never been stronger.
Immediately the ruling endangers situations where care workers currently are paid at an hourly rate. Many care workers have stated they will refuse to work those “sleep-in” shifts until this is resolved. Employers and local authorities should be put under pressure to continue with hourly rate for sleep-ins, and more generally to concede an uplift to pay and conditions to NHS workers’ standards. The labour movement must demand that the government change the law to recognise sleep-ins as the work they are. Unison has a petition on this issue.
Care workers are organising. The labour movement needs to step up and take the issues of care workers seriously, supporting workers to organise, standing in solidarity on the immediate day to day issues, such as full pay for self-isolation and sleep-ins, and demanding that the care sector be taken into public ownership.