Care firm that refuses to pay the living wage blasted by MPs over latest ‘unfair’ workforce plans

Date published: 02 August 2021

A care firm that refuses to pay the living wage has been blasted for proposing ‘dramatically unfair’ cuts to workers’ conditions.

Alternative Futures Group (AFG) is commissioned to provide services across Rochdale by the local authority.

But despite the council running a fund to support care providers in the borough to pay the Real Living Wage, it has rejected the offer.

Now the firm has sparked fury by mooting cuts to the working conditions of care workers it employs.

Its 'A Chance for Change' initiative aims to ‘change the enhanced terms and conditions for support workers’ as part of a ‘cost reduction programme’.

The care organisation says it would ‘love’ to pay its staff a Real Living Wage – but to do so will need to review all its current enhanced terms and conditions

AFG wrote to MPs and councillors across the North West about the planned changes, in what carers’ union UNISON described as an attempt to ‘soften the ground’.

But the firm was given short shrift with 21 parliamentarians – including Rochdale MP, Sir Tony Lloyd – and 63 councillors signing an open letter condemning the proposals. 

Mr Lloyd has strongly criticised AFG and says it is time for all carers to get a fair deal at work.

He said: “One of the things that’s been made so obvious during the Covid crisis is the value of carers, especially those looking after residents in our care homes.

“Sadly, many of those care workers are still significantly undervalued and consequently underpaid. This is not fair on care workers and it’s dramatically unfair on the residents of those homes.

“We need a different way of doing things where care workers are valued, treated as professionals, trained as professionals and paid as professionals, and that’s why I’ve signed the letter to AFG.”

He also took issue with AFG for failing to pay its staff a real living wage, as set out by the Living Wage Foundation.

“Rochdale Council have committed to funding the foundation living wage for social care providers, which includes AFG and have offered additional funds,” he said.

“But, while 84% of providers in Rochdale have accepted that offer AFG have rejected it.

“This ought to be unacceptable to everybody. I’m urging AFG now to guarantee that their care workers will have their terms and conditions protected and that they will pay the foundation living wage.”

Mr Lloyd has urged AFG to work with UNISON to achieve the ‘kind of standards that we’d want for our own family members’.

“It’s what care workers want and it’s what residents need,” added Mr Lloyd – one of four Greater Manchester MPs to sign the letter, including Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner.

A spokesperson for AFG said the firm is embarking on a consultation process with employees in relation to a proposal to change its enhanced terms and conditions.

They said: “We would love to pay our staff a Real Living Wage but to do this means we need to review all our current enhanced terms and conditions and discuss with our team how we move forward towards this aim.

“We stand with our staff to lobby local authorities and central government to tackle the historical underfunding of this sector so that the Real Living Wage becomes the norm within our industry and make our business sustainable for the future, which as a charity we have a legal obligation.

“We have written to the government calling on them to do a thorough and meaningful review of the social care workforce and put more money into the system so that we can pay our hard-working colleagues better. It is disappointing that there is still no plan for social care reform. 

“While employee council elections are still underway, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”

UNISON Regional Organiser Paddy Cleary said: “AFG’s treatment of its care workers is nothing short of shameful. It is clear that “A Chance for Change” is nothing more than a chance to cut costs - with the burden being felt by front-line workers.

“All contractual terms are set to be reviewed, leaving open the prospect of AFG cutting their occupational sick pay scheme in the midst of a pandemic. This would pose a public health risk - putting both care workers and service users at increased risk, as care workers are forced to choose between health and hardship.

“In a deft public relations move, AFG has attempted to distract from its 'cost reduction programme' with a vague expression of an 'ambition' to pay the Foundation Living Wage. But it is not difficult to see through this red herring. Wirral and Rochdale councils recently funded an uplift to allow local care providers to pay the Living Wage - yet in both cases AFG rejected these offers and refused to pay the Living Wage.

“It is clear to see that AFG’s proposal is a thinly veiled attempt to further slash the terms and conditions of an already undervalued workforce- they must urgently reconsider.”

Councillor Iftikhar Ahmed, Rochdale council’s cabinet member for adult care, said the authority’s Real Living Wage offer had been adopted by most providers in the borough – ‘boosting the pay packets of thousands of frontline care workers’.

He added: “Looking after elderly and vulnerable residents is an essential role and the work of our care staff throughout the pandemic has been absolutely incredible.

“The pay increase is the least they deserve and we are working closely across the sector so that all providers can implement the wage as soon as possible.”

The open letter to AFG was also signed by 11 MPs, including Stockport MP Nav Mishra and Salford and Eccles MP Rebecca Long-Bailey.

Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter

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