Maryam Madani speaks to Daithi O’Riain about the newly established Carers’ Branch of the Irish Workers’ Union
A new union for carers, the first of its kind in Ireland, has been set up as a branch of the Independent Workers’ Union, as of Autumn 2017.
While there are some trade unions for carers in the public sector who are employed by the HSE, this union is the first to also organise carers who are employed by private care companies. The group currently has around 20 members.
When asked why it has taken so long to create a union like this, Daithi O’Riain explained that it was “firstly, because carers are often working on their own, they are not coming into contact with other carers to discuss any job-related issues. Secondly, because private companies are doing their best to encourage workers not to join trade unions.”
O’Riain also explained the difficulties carers face and why they might need support: “Carers are currently some of the most exploited workers in the country, especially in the private sector.”
“Carers work long hours for very little pay. A typical day for our members might start at eight, working right through until 12. Then back out from two until three and then on again from five until ten in the evening. That’s eight or nine hours spread throughout the whole day.”
“In terms of pay for example, the HSE is reportedly paying private companies up to €30 per hour to provide care to a client. Carers are earning anywhere between €9.50-13 per hour for actually doing the work. Less than half of what the HSE deem appropriate for an hourly rate of care. This is totally unacceptable.”
Travel costs are another issue: “many private care companies do not pay travel or mileage to their workers, so out of that €9.50-13 carers will have to pay for petrol or bus fares to get to their shift. A number of the private companies also make carers pay for their own training, so this will also be deducted from the hourly rate.”
He says that similar to zero hour contracts, companies are “often not providing carers with enough hours each week. This can be dramatic if a client you are working with goes into hospital and the company does not replace these hours on your roster, leading to a significant reduction in pay.”
And finally, “many private companies also refuse to pay sick pay to workers, meaning if carers pick up an illness while working with vulnerable clients, they will be without pay for whatever period they are off.”
In order to counteract the difficulties faced by carers, the union’s demands include: “pay increases in a number of companies”, “a living wage per hour”, “sick pay and for mileage to be paid across the board.”
They also “regularly represent our members with grievances or disciplinary issues and aim to ensure that no carer has to face a situation at work alone.”
They are however mainly focused on recruitment at the moment which Daithi realises “will be an ongoing and slow process … due to the nature of the sector”
If you know someone who might like to join the union or come to their monthly meetings, you can contact IWU Carers on Facebook.