Foster Carers Vote to Form First Ever Trade Union
This month, at a meeting in Parliament supported by the shadow chancellor John McDonnell, around 60 foster carers voted to unionise and join the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain in a bid to improve working conditions.
Individual foster carers have joined unions in the past, but no group has ever voted to form its own. Dr Jason Moyer-Lee, the general secretary of the IWGB, believes the vote will mark a real change. He said: “People who work in foster care, alongside social workers, local authority employees, and others, together form part of a professional network responsible for looking after some of society’s most vulnerable individuals. Foster care work is important, demanding, and all too often highly exploitative. Like social workers and others who work in care, foster care workers should be remunerated properly, treated fairly, and have recourse to due process. By voting to unionise this is precisely what they aim to achieve.”
There are around 55,000 fostering households in the UK, which care for some 64,000 children. Foster carers are paid an “allowance” to cover the cost of the child in their care and a “fee” based on their skill level and time.
The main concern for foster carers is their legal status. They are not classes as employees or workers, because they are not engaged under a contract of employment. This means that they are not entitled to any of the rights enjoyed by employees or workers such as sick pay, holiday pay, or the national minimum wage.
Another concern raised at the meeting was the right to due process. Many foster care workers have complained that children can be removed from their care without their input or consultation. They claim there is little redress for them in cases of unfair and inappropriate removals.
In the wake of the vote, GMB, Britain’s general union, has called for foster carers to join the union. The union held an event for foster carers recently to bring together foster carers and allow foster children to participate in art competitions.
Rachel Harrison, GMB Lead Organiser for Foster Carers, said: “As one of the UK’s largest unions, GMB continues to work with the Fostering Network on a national scale, campaigning for national improvements on standards for foster carers. Foster carers have one of the most important roles in society, looking after our most vulnerable children…They need out support and we have successfully been able to bring them together and unionise this previously vulnerable group of workers.”
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