A care home provider is being taken to court over claims it pays female staff caring for sick and elderly residents less than male workers responsible for maintenance tasks like changing lightbulbs.
The GMB union has instructed lawyers to start legal proceeding against Avery Healthcare, which runs 45 care homes across England including residential, dementia and nursing care homes.
The case has been lodged at the High Court on behalf of 87 female members of staff mainly employed in care roles who claim they are being paid less than men working at the organisation.
The claims, which go back up to six years, could see the women recover thousands of pounds in back pay.
The GMB also revealed to Nursing Times that it was planning to launch a separate case on behalf of nurses employed by Avery, who it claims are owed holiday pay by the firm.
“This is about being recognised and rewarded fairly for the job you do”
Justin Bowden, GMB national officer for the care sector, said the majority of the women involved in the equal pay dispute were in caring roles and included senior carers. However, they also include domestic, laundry and catering staff and some admin workers.
He said on average the women were being paid roughly a pound less per hour than men in comparable jobs.
“We’re talking about maintenance men or caretakers doing day-to-day work like changing lightbulbs as opposed to carers who are not far short of nurses in many cases,” he said.
“The level of responsibility and, in many cases, level of qualification, knowledge and experience will be far greater than someone who is unblocking a drain,” said Mr Bowden
“This is about being recognised and rewarded fairly for the job you do. The biggest cost in any care business is the staff because it is a people business and the quality of the staff and their morale is vital to the provision of good care. That should be obvious to any employer,” he added.
Avery Healthcare employs more than 2,000 women and Mr Bowden anticipated more would come forward to make claims once the case got under way. “I expect the number to grow significantly,” he said.
The case is being handled on behalf of the GMB by leading employment rights law firm Leigh Day.
“The GMB will also be working to negotiate better terms and conditions and hope Avery sit down and negotiate a proper wage for the female carers equal to that received by male caretakers in the same care homes,” said lawyer Chris Benson.
“The carers provide an invaluable service looking after vulnerable individuals most in need of support and assistance. It is only right those carrying out such work are properly rewarded and not underpaid because of their gender.”
“The carers provide an invaluable service looking after vulnerable individuals”
When it came to nurses’ holiday pay, Mr Bowden confirmed this was a separate issue that would need to be handled through the employment tribunal process with any claims lodged with arbitration service ACAS first.
“Looking at this company and our members employed within it, two things came up – equal pay and also holiday pay and the biggest group that would appear to have holiday pay claims are nurses,” he said. “They tend to work lots and lots of extra hours due to the demands of the job.”
Mr Bowden said the holiday pay case was likely to involve up to 50 nurses.
Nursing Times asked the firm for a response. However, a spokeswoman said: “Thank you for approaching us for the opportunity to provide a comment but at the moment Avery have elected not to release a statement.”