Social care charity Alternative Futures Group (AFG) has told staff it plans to cut their wages to below the National Minimum Wage for time spent asleep but at work.
The charity, which employs 2,000 staff, wrote to workers saying it plans to cut their wages after the government published updated guidance on "sleep-in" shifts. That guidance follows a Court of Appeal hearing involving Mencap, which ruled in July that workers on sleep-in shifts were not always entitled to the full minimum wage.
However Mencap itself has said its court action was chiefly to prevent a backdated liability. It has re-emphasised its commitment to continue paying staff the full minimum wage for time spent asleep, and expressed disappointment with the government guidance.
Mencap chief executive Jan Tregelles said government should legislate to ensure sleep-ins were paid at the minimum wage.
The Court of Appeal judgment earlier this year overturned a previous court ruling that sleep-in shift workers should be entitled to the full minimum wage. These previous rulings had led many social care charities, such as AFG, to pay their sleep-in shift workers top-up fees in line with the minimum wage.
However, since the Court of Appeal ruling, AFG has now told workers that from 1 January it will only pay them a flat rate fee for each sleep-in shift, at lower than the minimum wage.
“It is highly likely that our commissioners will stop paying AFG a rate which would allow us to continue to make top up payments,” the charity said.
“Therefore, AFG regrettably has had to write to employees to advise them that from 1 January 2019 we will no longer pay top up payments for sleep-in hours – unless we secure sufficient funding to continue making the payments.
“As we state in our letter to employees, we will continue to negotiate with commissioners to seek the best possible rates to protect the pay of front line workers.”
In response to the letter, workers union Unison has said AFG staff will lose £30 to £40 per sleep-in shift, which makes up “a significant portion of support workers’ incomes”.
The union said private care provider Lifeways has also announced it will cut sleep-in shift staff wages with immediate effect.
A spokesperson for Lifeways said it had been paying the minimum wage to sleep-in staff since July 2017 but had been underfunded by over £5m by local authorities for these wages so had been forced to stop.
However, the union rejected AFG and Lifeways’ arguments that they were being made to cut wages by a drop in funding from commissioners.
Tim Ellis, regional organiser for Unison North West, said: “This is a mean-spirited attack on the incomes of low-wage workers who are performing valuable work.
“Alternative Futures and Lifeways are acting hastily and opportunistically. They are still getting the same level of funding from councils so their raid on workers’ incomes is wholly unnecessary.”
A petition by campaign group Care Workers for Change calling on AFG acting chief executive Ian Pritchard to continue to pay top-up payments has received more than 10,000 signatures.
Unison's national office said it was unaware of how many other care charities were planning to reduce sleep-in shift staff wages following the Mencap ruling.
But Christina McAnea, assistant general secretary, said the union "will be keeping a close eye on any attempts to change care employees' contracts".
She said the union urged "employers and those commissioning care to continue to do the right and moral thing, and pay their staff at least the hourly minimum wage".
The union has lodged an application to the Supreme Court to appeal the Mencap ruling, which has yet to be approved.