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Union demands Government averts adult social care disaster after collapse of Cambridgeshire care home

A visa extension would allow overseas care workers more time to find new employment, says UNISON

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The crisis at a Cambridgeshire care company shows why the government must drop plans to cap overseas care staff numbers and act to stop employers exploiting those already working in the UK, says UNISON today (Tuesday). The union says proposals reportedly being drawn up by immigration minister Robert Jenrick to curb migration would be disastrous for adult social care.

The draft plans are understood to include a limit on overseas care staff numbers and a ban on them bringing dependants here.

“In recent weeks, the collapse of Beaumont Healthcare has thrown new light on the scale of the crisis. The care company went bust, causing huge concern not only for the 150 vulnerable people it cared for, but also many migrant workers whose legal place in Britain relied on Beaumont’s sponsorship,” says a union spokesperson.

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Dozens of jobs were put at risk after the St Neots care provider says it has become “unsustainable” to continue their contracts with Cambridgeshire County Council and the NHS.

In a statement issued to CambsNews, Beaumont Healthcare said: “We have been providing care services to the region for nearly 30 years.

“The region has always had significant difficulty in recruitment of sufficient care staff, Beaumont Healthcare became involved with the Home Office to be granted the first Visa for overseas care staff, since then we have recruited thousands of carers who have contributed very significantly into the care sector, locally and nationally.

 

“All our recruits were brought here under strict ethical recruitment policies observing the laws of both the UK and their home countries.

Offices of Beaumont Healthcare Ltd at 15 Eaton Court, Colmworth Business Park, Eaton Socon, St Neots and (bottom left) Unison Cambridgeshire branch secretary Rob Turner

Offices of Beaumont Healthcare Ltd at 15 Eaton Court, Colmworth Business Park, Eaton Socon, St Neots and (bottom left) Unison Cambridgeshire branch secretary Rob Turner

“These staff have proved to be a wonderful addition to the UK local staff and combine to make a brilliant team who have supported all our work over the years.

“It is therefore with great sadness that we have now to end our contracts as it has become unsustainable within the financial constraints to continue.”

In a new report, Expendable labour, UNISON highlights how care staff are “propping up a crumbling care system and calls for the government to end the exploitation they face”.

The union spokesperson said: “The document calls for a change in visa rules so migrant care staff aren’t deported when care firms collapse and these workers lose their jobs.

“The report highlights cases where overseas workers have sold all they own to come here, only for their care employer to close down, lose their council contract or sack staff on baseless grounds.

“It details harrowing accounts of abusive practices suffered by migrant care staff. The union says the workers have been encouraged to come here to fill staffing gaps in care homes and domiciliary care”.

The spokesperson added: “These employees have faced demands for excessive fees from recruitment agents in return for jobs in the UK, had money deducted from wages if they try to leave, and had to pay extortionate rents for substandard accommodation.

Offices of Beaumont Healthcare Ltd at 15 Eaton Court, Colmworth Business Park, Eaton Socon, St Neots

Offices of Beaumont Healthcare Ltd at 15 Eaton Court, Colmworth Business Park, Eaton Socon, St Neots

“UNISON has also uncovered evidence of migrant care staff forced to work shifts lasting 19 hours without breaks, who have experienced racial abuse, and been threatened with dismissal and deportation.”

Cases highlighted in the report Expendable labour include:
– A recruitment agent in India asking for £12,000 to ‘introduce’ a care worker to a UK employer.
– A care employer demanding £4,000 for ‘training costs’ when the employee tried to leave for an NHS job, and then withholding their work reference.
– Migrant workers invoiced for administration costs including £65-an-hour fee for meeting them at the airport and £395 for a ‘cultural induction’.
– Companies passing on Home Office charges to staff that employers should be paying themselves, such as the immigration skills charge.

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The report says many care workers are being lured to the UK and then given no choice but to accept poor working conditions when they get here.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick on a recent visit to the new £5m operating theatre at Newark Hospital in his constituency.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick (centre) on a recent visit to the new £5m operating theatre at Newark Hospital in his constituency.

Current immigration rules make it hard for care staff to leave a job unless they can find a new sponsor.

Skilled overseas workers, which include care staff, currently have 60 days to find a new employer and sponsor. The union says this is not long enough and is calling for a change in visa rules.

A visa extension would allow overseas care workers more time to find new employment, says UNISON.

“This will prevent employers threatening deportation if staff try to leave their jobs,” said the Unison spokesperson.

In addition, the union wants immigration rules to change so that migrant care workers will only have to pay once for a work visa, and not every time they get a new job.

Other recommendations outlined in the report include that ministers should provide councils with new guidance on how to tackle unscrupulous care employers.

UNISON says cash-strapped local authorities should get help from the government to intervene. This should be in the form of a dedicated fund to enable them to clamp down on abuse.

UNISON also says recruitment of care staff overseas should only take place via agencies on the ethical recruiters list run by the NHS. A national care service would ensure that care staff were paid properly, the union added.

UNISON Eastern regional secretary Tim Roberts said: “The care system would implode without migrant care staff. Demonising these workers will do nothing to solve the social care crisis.

“Overseas care workers have been encouraged to come to Cambridgeshire and elsewhere to support those most in need, only for some employers to treat them as expendable labour. Ministers must stop being complicit in allowing this abuse to happen.

“The government needs to reform immigration rules, not make them more draconian. Ministers’ attention would be far better focused on fixing care and boosting pay so careers in the sector are more attractive.

“It’s time to stop scapegoating migrants and instead give councils greater funding to tackle those exploiting them.”

– Click here to read the report.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

– Case studies: A care worker from the Philippines whose employer made him redundant said: “We’ve been dropped like we no longer exist. I need to support my family, but my new job hasn’t started yet. I’m also worried that I may have to cover the costs of finding a new sponsor.”

A care worker from Nigeria, paid around £7,000 to an agent, which included visa expenses. The care worker says: “I love taking care of people, but I don’t think the company has enough work. The only way to leave is to get another sponsor. I’ve sold everything so I can’t return to Nigeria.”

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