Fair Work: a voice for care workers

Published date
Most of us agree that social care needs more funding, but would this necessarily make social care work fairer?

Most of us agree that social care needs more funding, but would this necessarily make social care work fairer?

Today is the World Day for Decent Work and the theme is ‘investing in care for gender equality’. As more women are unpaid carers, investment in the care system could help more women participate in the labour market. And as women make up well over half of Wales’ care workforce, improving employment conditions would also be a step toward greater gender equality. 

Social care is one of the most talked about industries when it comes to the fair/decent/good work agenda. It’s a critical foundational sector with endemic poor employment practices, including:

Employers are also struggling, with difficulties recruiting and low retention rates. And the need for care is forecast to grow (a 56% rise in people requiring care by 2035 is predicted), with no clear plan for where the investment for this will come from.

While care workers in our public sector are covered by collective agreements, this is rarely the case in the private sector. Without collective bargaining, workers don’t get to negotiate their pay and other terms and conditions. They don’t get a say.

This is why we welcomed the Fair Work Commission’s recommendation to set up a Fair Work Forum for social care, where social partners (government, employers and unions) can work through the key barriers to decent work in the sector. These include low levels of collective voice, insufficient funding and issues with commissioning.

Welsh Government has already shown leadership by curbing the use of zero-hours contracts in care. But without dedicated social partnership for the sector to enforce this and make further progress - and without a duty on those public bodies which commission care to ensure Fair Work outcomes - we’ll continue to see far too many care workers excluded from fair work. It needs a sector-wide approach.

A Fair Work Forum in social care is the next step for care workers, so that they can determine what decent work means to them. The voice of care workers must be at the table and it must be heard. It’s a hard-won labour right which far too few care workers are currently accessing.