SOCIAL care workers in the isles have received a substantial pay increase in recognition of a much-changed job that now involves many duties nurses would have carried out in the past.
Following a review of social care workers’ job descriptions that got underway before Covid, pay for all the council’s 500 staff working in the sector have been re-evaluated.
This has led to almost all staff moving up one pay grade, resulting in hourly pay rises of between 98p and £2.02, depending on the grade.
The lowest pay in social care is now £14.93 per hour (after one year of service) including distant islands allowance. Social care staff with SVQ3 qualifications can expect to earn £16.28 an hour.
The pay award is backdated to 1 April, and employees can expect to receive the backpay by the end of the month. This is separate from the 5.5 per cent wage increase for 2023/24 negotiated by the unions which will be paid in December.
The updated job profiles apply for all staff delivering direct care across adult services, community care resources and children’s social work.
Council leaders hope the move, which is estimated to add another £800,000 to the department’s annual wage bill, will go some way to alleviate the crisis in social care which is characterised by an ever-increasing workload, high staff turnover and an unsustainable use of agency workers.
The changes to the pay grades were considered and approved by councillors during a number of meetings behind closed doors throughout the course of the year.
There are currently 90 vacancies in the sector across the isles, while the annual bill for employing agency workers in health and social care will top £3 million this financial year.
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Director of community health and social care Jo Robinson said the expectation was that the £800,000 coming from the council’s reserves could be recouped by reducing the dependency on agency workers.
She also expressed the hope that some social care workers who had left the profession over recent years might be prepared to come back.
The investment in the isles’ social care workers has been welcomed by the local branch of public sector union Unison.
Branch secretary Susanne Gens said the review had been long overdue and has been lobbied for by the union for many years.
“Hopefully the resulting increase in pay will help to make current staff more valued for the work they do, as well as attracting new talent,” she said.
“Our members delivering direct care in all areas of the council, now know what is expected of them and that they are paid in line with the Single Status agreement.”
While many social care services across Scotland are provided by the private sector where wage levels are around £12 per hour, in Shetland the vast majority is delivered directly by the local authority.
Chief executive Maggie Sandison said Shetland Islands Council has always paid its social care workers better than other care providers, certainly those in the private sector on mainland Scotland.
She said the policy of keeping people at home for as long as possible, care workers in the community and in care homes are often providing “high end and quite complicated care packages”.
“It has felt necessary for us to revisit the job descriptions and to recognise the increased demand on our care workers, the range of skills that are being deployed, and pay properly for those skills and the demand of their work,” she said.
But the profession has not just become more demanding over recent years with new duties added that in the past have been carried out by trained nurses. Shetland’s buoyant economy has lured many away into less stressful and better paid jobs in the private sector.
Sandison said that as such the re-evaluation of social care was also in recognition that the council has to pay more, if it wants to retain its workforce.
“It’s a real challenge trying to get and to keep care workers. With the high use of agency workers, we have been looking at how to attract more people into care,” she said.
“We got an ageing population and rising demand for care. We need to look at how do we make care an attractive job (…) and encourage people into the work and support them with career pathways.”
To that end the council has lowered the threshold to enter social care and will provide more training opportunities for people to grow into the role.
“It is about us reshaping our care services and beginning to recognise that the future of care is different to what it used to be in the past,” she said.
Council leader Emma Macdonald added: “The role is not only physically demanding it is also emotionally challenging.
“During the Covid 19 pandemic social care workers were at the front line, providing care and support during the most difficult of times.
“Reviewing the roles and responsibilities was an important step in recognising the importance of this role and I would hope that it shows that we do really value our social care workforce and the importance of the roles they play.”
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