A trade union is calling on employers to improve sleep-in working conditions after a survey found “shocking cases” of care staff being physically abused and having to bed down on dirty mattresses.
The report, ‘Sleeping in, losing out’, released today by Unison to coincide with the opening of its annual conference, reveals the extent of carers’ heavy workloads during overnight shifts.
It comes as top-up payments to ensure care staff receive the national minimum wage are being scrapped by some providers. Unison says employers are wrong to deny staff the minimum wage for each hour on shift.
The current legal situation is that the national minimum wage does not apply for time spent asleep and available at work, and regulations regarding pay only apply when staff are awake for working.
However, this could change as a Supreme Court appeal has been scheduled for 12 and 13 February 2020.
Unison’s study is based on a survey of more than 3,000 people caring for the vulnerable and elderly in the UK by staying overnight, including in residential homes or in the properties of those receiving home support.
It highlights how more than one in ten (13%) respondents said their sleeping facilities were unsuitable where they worked.
Some had to make do with make-shift beds in staff offices, with ripped mattresses, and others (2%) had nowhere to sleep at all. Others reported there was no bathroom to wash or shower in despite having to work another shift the next day, and lack of privacy was an issue too.
Sleeping in, losing out shows that more than seven in ten (72%) respondents were so busy they only got a couple of hours sleep a night, with two-thirds (72%) left feeling exhausted.
The duties staff assume responsibility for overnight include calming people with learning disabilities or mental health issues when distressed (81%), assisting vulnerable people to go to the toilet (43%), and giving medication (59%).
The report raises serious concerns about the safety of sleep-in staff and the failure of employers to protect them properly, says Unison.
Nearly a third (31%) who responded to the survey had experienced personal threats or been attacked. Some had been bitten, punched, kicked, spat at, had people try to strangle them, been threatened with knives, and boiling water – or even told they would be killed.
However, more than two thirds (67%) say they are the only member of staff on site during their sleep-in shift.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This report demonstrates how much sleep-in staff are relied upon.
“They’re effectively keeping the care system on its feet. Yet workers are hugely undervalued by employers and paid poverty wages.
“It’s totally unacceptable to leave staff to sleep in offices, and not protect them from abuse. More staff could quit their jobs if employers don’t act, leaving care even more in crisis.”
Unison is calling on employers to improve sleep-in working conditions such as providing somewhere safe and clean to sleep, carrying out proper risk assessments, and for the government to fund the back pay owed to sleep-in shift workers who have not received the national minimum wage.
Commenting on the findings, Karolina Gerlich, a home care worker and founding director of the National Association for Care & Support Workers, said: “Care workers frequently report unsuitable sleeping conditions for sleep-in shifts to us, which means they actually do not get any sleep and do wake nights for the sleep-ins rates.
“There is no industry standard of what needs to be provided for sleep-ins and some care and support workers find themselves being the only ones on duty in the facility.
“Many care workers are frequently woken up at night which again means they do not get multiple hours of uninterrupted sleep.”
Gerlich stressed that all sleep-in shift workers should be paid at least the National Minimum Wage.
“Sleep-in shifts are detrimental to the safety and physical and mental health wellbeing of many care workers and should be paid as normal work and regulated better for safety measures,” she said.