Care and Support Workers Organised (CaSWO), a group that brings together workers in the care industry across different trade unions, is organising a series of protests on 4 September outside of the Department of Health and Social Care in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Preston. They are encouraging other care workers to join the campaign, and welcome support from the rest of the workers’ movement.

Socialist Party member Nick Auvache spoke to Unite rep, and key organiser, Billie Cooper about the campaign.

Demanding a 15% pay rise for NHS workers, 8th August 2020, London, photo Sarah SE

Demanding a 15% pay rise for NHS workers, 8th August 2020, London, photo Sarah SE   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

How did CaSWO come about and who is involved?

CaSWO started in response to the PPE crisis that emerged at the beginning of the pandemic and was initially called the Care Workers Coronavirus Action Group.

The failures of our social care system, however, predate coronavirus. While we were brought together by this issue, the scope of our meetings and ambitions quickly grew.

We are trade unionists and one of our demands is for trade union recognition for all care and support workers. A lot of us are very involved in union organising within our workplaces and active in our branches. However, we have also found it challenging at times to do the sort of organising we felt was needed within the structures of our individual unions.

What support have you had from trade union leaders on the issues that you are fighting on?

While social care has been historically difficult to organise, we are increasingly part of the conversation. We are a workforce that is 1.5 million strong and growing, and there is an increased recognition that, while it is challenging, we are far from unorganisable!

Union membership in the sector remains low and there are sections of the workforce we are failing to reach, but we are optimistic that trade union leaders are prepared to engage with the challenge.

What are the main issues facing care workers right now?

There are a lot of issues to tackle, but paying us more would be an excellent start! The average care worker receives £8.50 per hour. Last year, 73% of care workers received less than the Living Wage. In London, it was 90%. The Supreme Court’s March 2021 ruling on sleep shifts also means that we are the only UK workers who are legally paid below the minimum wage while in the workplace.

Even those of us ‘lucky’ enough to be receiving a Living Wage are still struggling because the wage set by the Living Wage Foundation is still too low. CaSWO believes our work is worth no less than £15 per hour. This would bring us up to the average UK income.

Is the campaign likely to develop into strike action if your demands are not met?

In the past six months, we’ve already seen lots of care and support workers striking.

In April, the North London Sage workers went on strike demanding £12 per hour, full sick pay, and union recognition. Not long after, workers at the homelessness charity, St Mungo’s, followed suit, this time around issues of bullying. As union membership and confidence grow amongst the workforce, I believe we will see more care and support workers taking industrial action.

CaSWO’s main demands

  • £15 an hour with holiday pay based on normal wages and pension parity with public sector workers
  • Contracts of employment, including minimum hours, to be led by the needs of workers and those in receipt of care and support
  • Occupational sick pay for all, including full pay protection for any absence arising from Covid-19
  • Safe workplaces with genuine support for every aspect of workers’ health and wellbeing
  • Care and support workers should be entitled to benefits, including access to keyworker housing and eligibility for low-cost home ownership schemes
  • Trade union recognition for all care and support workers
  • Mandatory sectoral collective bargaining relevant to all governmental and devolved jurisdictions across the UK
  • Social care to be brought into democratic public ownership, guided by co-production of workers, disabled people and those in receipt of support