Ben Mackie

Winning for care workers on zero-hours

Ben Mackie works for a private care provider that delivers contracts for the local council. He’s on a zero-hours contract, meaning he has no guaranteed hours and his schedule changes from week to week.

Because his employer was not paying him for the time it took to travel between the homes of those he cares for his average wage was falling below the national minimum wage. With the support of UNISON he took his employer to court and won back pay for the entire workforce.

Tell us about your job.

I go into people’s homes and help them with medication, meals, shopping and other support in their everyday lives. It’s about helping vulnerable people and connecting people together in the community, which I find very satisfying because a lot of these people don’t see others very often. Although I like the work I’m on a zero hours contract which I find difficult.

Describe the challenges of zero hours contracts.

I think they’re a disgrace and I think they should be banned. Every week I get stressed because I don’t know how many hours of work I’m getting. I deal with it but I find it very depressing and it’s always in the back of my mind. If I had guaranteed hours I’d be able to plan my life a lot better and be able to manage my money a lot better. I’d be able to lift the constant worry.

What case did you bring against your employer?

The case I brought against my employer was around them not paying me travel time. I went through the union and they worked out that when you averaged out my pay it fell below the minimum wage. In our line of work we’re not going to earn a king’s ransom, but we should be paid fairly and properly. With the help of UNISON I went to court and eventually we won. Now the employer is paying travel time at a fair rate and that’s benefitting not just me but all the employees. It was quite a victory actually.

How important was the support of UNISON?

The union was absolutely brilliant! They were very supportive, they helped me out in all manner of things including legal issues and moral support. You know someone’s behind you, someone’s fighting for you, someone cares and so you don’t feel so isolated. Unions are really crucial in everybody’s working life to ensure your basic rights.

How did your colleagues react?

This wasn’t personal victory it was for the whole workforce. It wasn’t just about individual wages, it was so we can improve the whole care industry. People need to have better contracts, achieve better living standards so they can then give better care. These cases are really about giving people heart, giving people courage. I have talked to colleagues and we’ve got more people joining the union at the moment. People are so focused on the everyday aspect of the job they don’t always think they need to join but as a result of the wages win, more people are getting involved.