An urgent call has been issued for a new deal for health and social care workers that better reflects their worth following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The King’s College London (KCL) paper calls for a new employment relations model to tackle the challenges exposed by the crisis.
The researchers explores pay, outsourcing, training and migrant workers – a key part of the care workforce, who it says have often been treated as ‘outsiders’.
Professor Ian Kessler, who led the research, said: “These features of employment relations have cruelly hampered the capacity of health and social care providers to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. They have led to difficulties in recruiting and retaining frontline care staff, reflected in the shortfall of around 40,000 registered nurses, and arguably contributed to a lack preparation, not least apparent in the initial shortages of personal protective equipment for staff, especially in under-resourced care homes.
“As the terror of this pandemic begins to subside, it feels like the right moment to start talking about how to rebuild and re-regulate our health and social care system. It is not enough to just clap for our carers, it’s time to make meaningful changes to the working practices that have seen them undervalued and dismissed for far too long.”
The researchers propose a new model of employee relations based on the four key principles of: integration; parity of esteem and treatment; compliance; and a collective employee voice.
The model includes: the alignment of employment practices between public and private sector organisations; re-evaluating pay rates and increases and seeking a more even distribution of training resources; broadening the remit of the Care Quality Commission, and other arms-length-bodies like Health Education England; and re-affirming the longstanding public policy commitment to worker representation by trade unions and professional associations.
UNISON senior national officer Gavin Edwards said: “Care staff have been underpaid and undervalued in a broken system for far too long, and have shouldered a heavy burden during the pandemic.
“The sector needs a fundamental rethink to recognise and reward the skills, importance and value of care workers. UNISON recently outlined its vision to transform social care to create a system fit for the future.
“Any new rights for care workers must involve partnership working with unions, as happens in other public services.”
Kelly Andrews, GMB Care Lead, said: “This report rightly highlights employment practices faced by care workers have hampered the ability to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.
“GMB has long campaigned for social care to receive fair funding, safe staffing levels, pay justice and the professionalisation of the workforce.
“We believe vulnerable people relying on this fragmented social care sector have been failed by the government.”