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Southern Cross bosses demand huge cuts in pay and conditions
After announcing 3,000 job cuts Southern Cross, the near bankrupt private care homes company has demanded that its workforce accept a new contract of employment that borders on slave labour, with any who refuse the new terms threatened with dismissal without redundancy pay.
The company, which owes £50 million to the banks and £20 million in tax, has also upset its landlords by unilaterally imposing a 30% rent cut for four months.
According to the GMB union Southern Cross is demanding that workers have their hours increased or decreased by 20% as required, or be moved to a different home "within a reasonable area". Workers would no longer be paid for breaks at work, resulting in full-time employees only being paid for 38.5 hours a week instead of 42.
On 19 June it was reported that 200 staff who had not been paid threatened to walk out.
The company also wants workers to carry out other duties such as cooking and cleaning on top of caring and is demanding that workers agree to opt out of the European working time directive which stipulates a maximum 48-hour week. Already many staff work 12-hour shifts and are paid little more than the minimum wage of £5.93 an hour
Southern Cross has insisted that its staff cuts won't adversely affect patient care. However, a Channel 4 News investigation revealed that the care home regulator recently criticised staffing levels in some homes in the six months to April 2011. The Care Quality Commission reviewed 49 homes and found concerns in 26.
Channel 4 News also says it has seen research which shows that in 2010 one-third of Southern Cross homes (265) did not have permanent, registered managers.
It seems that staffing levels and poor management at Southern Cross-run homes were raised by officials in Gateshead Council as far back as 2008.
Southern Cross was bought by private equity company Blackstone back in 2004 who stripped the firm of its capital, selling the homes and renting them back from other companies. This brought Blackstone a mega-profit when it sold the firm in 2007.
The care homes crisis has underlined the failure of the private run-for-profit model to adequately provide public services. However, this remains the model for all the establishment parties, including the Labour party, none of whom countenance bringing such care back into the public domain.