The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has written to a care charity questioning its decision to cut overnight staff pay to below the minimum wage.
Alternative Futures Group (AFG) told its 2,500 staff last month it plans to cut their pay for sleep-in shifts following a Court of Appeal hearing involving Mencap, which ruled in July that workers on these shifts were not always entitled to the full minimum wage.
The Court of Appeal judgment overturned previous court rulings in 2016 and 2017 that said 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.
AFG wrote to workers last month saying it would stop paying top-up fees because it was “highly likely that our commissioners will stop paying AFG a rate which would allow us to continue to make top-up payments”.
However, last week Burnham wrote to AFG's acting chief executive Ian Pritchard questioning the reasoning behind his decision and urging him to continue discussions with Unison.
He said: “The negotiated approach agreed between Unison and other providers shows that it is possible to find a way forward which works for both providers and staff, particularly as I understand that no Greater Manchester council commissioners have reduced funding for learning disability support in 2018.
“I would urge you to meet with Unison and find a negotiated way forward to support staff who are providing this [sic] crucial services.”
AFG accepted Burnham’s assertion that no Greater Manchester councils have reduced funding for sleep-in shifts, but argued that they never fully funded them in the first place.
The charity estimates that it has paid an unfunded £8.1m to workers since it started top-up payments in 2015.
It made a net deficit of £3.1m in the year to March 2018, although its latest accounts say the main reason for this is a revaluation of its properties.
Pritchard said in his letter to Burnham: “AFG has subsidised NMW pay for four years. Now that the law has changed, you will understand that I must now act to prevent further losses to the charity.
“This will protect the jobs of all 2,500 care staff and protect the future of our organisation and the people we support. This action is highly regrettable but I have no choice.”
Pritchard said he would be communicating with local authorities to them to increase funding for sleep-in shifts in the next financial year.
Unison’s campaigning has had some success so far with private care provider Lifeways reversed its decision to cut sleep-in shift workers’ pay to below the minimum wage following discussions with the union.
A petition by campaign group Care Workers for Change calling on AFG Pritchard to similarly reverse the decision to stop top-up payments has received more than 13,000 signatures.
Unison has also lodged an application to the Supreme Court to appeal the Mencap ruling, which has yet to be approved.