Researchers from King’s Business School have today published a paper which urgently calls for a new deal for health and care employees which acknowledges and reflects their worth to our individual and communal well-being following the Covid-19 pandemic. The paper calls for a new model of employment relations (ER), characterised as fair care work to tackle the challenges exposed by the crisis.
The paper Fair Care Work: A post Covid-19 agenda for integrated employment relations in health and social care, highlights that the contribution of frontline care workers has been reflected in the Thursday night round of applause. However, this sits uneasily with the treatment of over two million health and social care employees, mostly women, often from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, typically in undervalued, relatively low paid and insecure employment.
The researchers urge policy makers and practitioners to consider how these sentiments can be captured in the fair treatment at work of these health and social care employees and explores four key dimensions: pay, outsourcing, training and migrant workers, who have long played a key part of the care workforce, but, given their labour market insecurities and managerial cost minimisation strategies, particularly in outsourced care services, often treated as ‘outsiders’.
Professor Ian Kessler, who lead the research said: “These features of employment relations have cruelly hampered the capacity of health and social care providers to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. They have led to difficulties in recruiting and retaining frontline care staff, reflected in the shortfall of around 40,000 registered nurses, and arguably contributed to a lack preparation, not least apparent in the initial shortages of personal protective equipment for staff, especially in under-resourced care homes.
“As the terror of this pandemic begins to subside, it feels like the right moment to start talking about how to rebuild and re-regulate our health and social care system. It not enough to just clap for our carers, it’s time to make meaningful changes to the working practices that have seen them undervalued and dismissed for far too long”.
The researchers proposed new model of employee relations are based on 4 key principles:
Integration – The fragmentation of service delivery has been mirrored in the fractured nature of employment relations both within and between the health and social care sectors. This fracturing has led to the uneven treatment of employees, with consequences for the capacity of the workforce to deliver services in a connected way, in turn, with implications for care quality.
In response the researchers call for the greater integration of employment relations. In part, this integration centres on the alignment of employment practices between public, private and
Parity of esteem and treatment – The researchers call for a re-evaluation of job worth, with implications for pay rates and increases; seeking a more even distribution of training resources and opportunities across occupational groups, and addressing the egregious systemic behaviours casting migrants care workers as ‘the other’ rather than as ‘one of us’.
Compliance – Fair care work cannot be an optional extra. Throughout the paper the researchers argue that the right to fair care work reflects the enduring debt the community owes to the health and social care workforce for its bravery and sacrifice in dealing with Covid-19.
The papers suggests that compliance of such standards might be given effect by broadening the remit of the Care Quality Commission, and other arms-length-bodies like Health Education England, and by the regular government commissioning of monitoring exercises.
Collective employee voice – This seeks to re-affirm the longstanding public policy commitment to worker representation by trade unions and professional associations as the basis for industrial citizenship and the vehicle for workers to effectively articulate and pursue their legitimate interests