Social care nurses and colleagues recruited from overseas have been subjected to a ‘significant rise’ in exploitation and abuse, the union Unison has warned.
Recent examples have included nurses being handed bills for thousands of pounds if they try to change their jobs, or being left unpaid for their time at work by employers who claim this is to recoup fees towards their training or accommodation.
In a letter sent to health minister Helen Whately, the union has highlighted the ‘shocking abuse’ and ‘unacceptable treatment’ of employers towards social care workers from overseas.
General secretary of Unison, Christina McAnea, told Ms Whately that the actions of ‘unscrupulous employers’ had led to ‘the most extreme and disgraceful practices’, and called on the government to intervene urgently.
The letter details a case in which a care home employer ‘chased’ a social care nurse for £14,000 after she resigned. The nurse had previously raised concerns about exploitative treatment and standards of care in the home.
Contracts for migrant workers, such as the nurse mentioned in the letter, can include ‘repayment clauses’ which are designed to help recoup the costs of recruitment, by allowing employers to charge staff for hiring expenses should they try to leave their contracts early.
Such clauses have been the source of considerable controversy and the government’s latest code of conduct for international recruitment placed some recommended restrictions on their use.
In July 2022, MPs on the Health and Social Care Select Committee said that the NHS should halt the use of repayment clauses altogether.
In a statement today, Ms McAnea urged the government to ‘stop unscrupulous care employers from luring overseas workers under false pretences, only to then exploit and harass them’.
‘These practices have no place in a modern society. Migrant staff deserve nothing but respect and dignity for coming to look after those who need care the most,’ Ms McAnea added.
In addition to the use of repayment clauses, the letter detailed allegations where migrant care workers had been paid ‘just a fraction’ of the hours they worked.
There were also examples of care workers from overseas being subjected to racist remarks, harassment, and intimidation if they complained about the treatment of the people they care for.
The letter also claimed staff had been expected to share bedrooms and, in some cases, even beds with colleagues at work. They had also been directed by their employers not to discuss the circumstances of how they came to be in the UK with anyone.
Unison added that these examples of poor treatment were ‘inevitable in a sector that is built on poor terms and conditions for all care workers, including poverty wages, no proper sick pay, failure to pay for travel time and zero-hours contracts’.
Case studies highlighted by the union included Michael – a nurse who was asked to pay back several thousand pounds.
Michael said: ‘It was like modern-day slavery. I was just a commodity to my employer. I knew there might be costs to pay back but not such a high amount.’
Meanwhile, Agnes, a nurse whose employer did not pay her for her last few months at work, said: ‘The contract I signed was deceiving, it didn’t specify how much I’d have to pay back.
‘My employer didn’t pay me for the last few months to recoup the money they claimed I owed them. They’d call on my day off to ask if what I was doing was important. The whole experience was devastating.’
The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.