STAFF shortages in Shetland’s care homes have forced the local authority to recruit agency contractors from the Scottish mainland for the first time.
Trade unions voiced alarm when they discovered by accident that two agency staff had already started work last week before consultation with the unions or councillors.
This week social work director Simon Bokor Ingram said consulting would slow down recruitment at a time the service urgently needed extra staff.
“When you need agency staff you need them quickly. We have got some hard to fill vacancies and we knew we had reached a point where we needed to use agencies,” he told BBC Radio Shetland.
However the Shetland branch of local government union Unison said that the staffing crisis had been caused by management refusing to listen to their advice.
On Thursday Shetland Islands Council’s social services committee will discuss in private proposals to recruit up to six agency staff to relieve pressure on council employees in several of the islands’ care homes.
At least two agency staff are already working in one care home, according to Unison branch secretary Tracey Leith.
Large numbers of care workers were paid redundancy or early retirement packages over the past two years as part of a major budget saving exercise across the entire local authority.
However since then more care staff have left the council, forcing them to recruit ex-employees who had taken redundancy.
“It’s very regretful we have spent such a long time paying for this workforce to be trained up, and we have then got rid of them and are now employing agency workers,” Leith said.
She claimed that staff had left because they felt “unlistened to, uncared for and very emotionally stressed by the whole review system”.
Unison chairman Brian Smith added: “The council got rid of staff, a lot of staff left, all this was meant to save money. Now they are presumably spending large amounts of money that could have been avoided employing agency staff.”
Smith said the council had been “foolish” not to consult with the unions, and blamed the current disaffection amongst staff on management ignoring union suggestions on a new rota system.
“I am sure that things like the rota business, where people’s ability to organise their lives properly was completely ignored is one reason why staff left,” he said.
“But in Shetland at the moment we are in a period where there is alternative employment (in the private sector), so it is not surprising people changed jobs.”
Bokor Ingram denied there was a crisis in the islands’ care homes, but said the point had been reached where some gaps had to be filled.
He blamed the “buoyant private sector economy” for staff leaving, but agreed that if the unions were hearing that staff were unhappy then there needed to be “a conversation” about that.
He added: “Clearly it becomes more of a necessity to get agency staff if what the unions say is true and staff are stressed.
“We need to make sure our existing staff are well supported and where we have got those hard to fill places we have made sure we get agency staff as a short term measure as we continue to recruit.”
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