Care workers supporting vulnerable people in Powys have been stripped of their paid break times and must now work longer hours, according to a union source.

UNISON Cymru Wales says private care firm, Shaw Healthcare told employees they must agree the changes, or they would be sacked and re-engaged on weaker contracts, in a practice commonly known as a threat to ‘fire and rehire’.  

The union further claims that Shaw executives have refused to negotiate with representatives from UNISON Cymru Wales and yesterday (Tuesday), the union wrote an open letter to Powys County Council warning the authority its care contractor’s bullying behaviour is completely unacceptable and the firm must be reprimanded.

UNISON says Shaw’s care staff will no longer have a paid 30-minute break and their shifts have been extended by half an hour. Shaw has also banned staff from eating prepared food with residents at meal times, which was a contractual right. Now staff will be allowed to eat ‘leftovers’ if they pay. 

The care firm alleges the employment conditions of staff must be slashed if it is to win a renewed contract with the local authority, something UNISON says is not an unusual practice at private and not-for-profit care firms. The trade union campaigns for care services to be provided directly by the council which is democratically accountable.

A care worker speaking to UNISON on condition of anonymity said: “I can’t begin to tell you the negative emotions I am feeling right now almost to the point where I feel like I can’t go on. The feelings of being bullied, threatened and degraded are paramount at the moment.”

A second care worker, again speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “In all honesty, we have been held over a barrel. They are targeting the lowest paid and now we’re getting a pay cut – we are paid for 7 hours, but they are asking us to work 7 and a half hours. When the company told me I felt sick.  

“We know what we mean to the residents and we always put them first. We gave up seeing our own families to look after them during Covid so when, as a parting shot, the company asked us to think of the service, I just didn’t feel like a valued member of staff.”

John Byrne, UNISON Powys County branch secretary, said:“Shaw healthcare is exploiting hard working staff, who are already low paid. Care workers give everything to support people in our community, but their employer has been bullying them to give up their rights.

“These are local jobs and it is right for the council to investigate and ensure all care workers are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.  Ultimately, directly provided council care services are the best guarantee of standards for staff and services users.”

UNISON has also written to the Deputy Minister for Social Care, Julie Morgan, to complain about Shaw Healthcare. It says the care commissioning process has failed and the need to generate a profit is the barrier to improved care services in Wales.

Shaw Healthcare’s Regional Operational Director, Abigail Katsande said: “There has not been a pay cut. We have been in consultation for the last three months regarding the proposed changes that aligned Powys’ residents’ wellbeing in line with the rest of Shaw, and best care practice in the UK.

“Previously, employees were paid for lunch breaks but not for hand overs of residents’ care for 15 minutes either side of their daily shifts.

“Our proposals, to which over 99 per cent of carers have agreed to, introduce this practice as contractual rather than optional.”

Staff will begin their shift 15 minutes earlier under the new paid handover system, allowing them to receive updates about residents from the previous shift’s team.

They will be remunerated for an additional 15 minutes at the end of their shift for relaying the same information to the next shift.

According to Shaw, this approach is standard in the NHS and is regarded as the best method for caring for the elderly.

The company heavily subsidizes cooked meals in its care homes, so employees only pay a minimal fee.

In addition, the company pays its employees the “real living wage,” which is 48p more per hour than the national living wage, and every full-time worker receives tax-free bonuses amounting to £1,250.

UNISON has also written to Powys County Council about what it called “bullying tactics” which left its members forced to accept changes to their contracts or face being fired and rehired.

In the open letter, UNISON’s Regional Organiser Mark Turner said he was disappointed that “Dickensian approaches" were still being e

UNISON claim that care workers had no choice but to consent to altered terms and conditions that undermine the few perks that make some of the lowest paid jobs attractive.

Powys County Council has confirmed to the Brecon & Radnor Express that it has received a letter from trade unions and will respond to it in due course.