William Eichler 01 September 2020

Tribunal rules foster care workers entitled to employee rights

A UK tribunal has ruled that foster care workers are council employees and therefore entitled to employment rights.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) launched the case against Glasgow City Council in 2017 on behalf of foster care workers and union members, Jimmy and Christine Johnstone.

The union argued that the couple were entitled to the same employee rights as council workers - rights such as sick pay, holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and protections for whistleblowing.

Foster carers sign agreements with local authorities. However, they are not classed as employees of the authority and so do not have access to employee rights.

The tribunal ruled in favour of the Johnstones in 2017 prompting the city council to appeal the ruling. This week the Edinburgh Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the initial decision.

‘For years we were told we had no rights. No employment rights, no right to representation or due process and no right to speak out even when our family was at risk. This is the reality facing foster care workers nationwide,’ said Mr Johnstone.

‘Three times in four years we’ve had to fight and win our case but with the support of our union, we have won the day. We are delighted with the ruling and hopeful that it will encourage others to take up the fight.

‘All foster care workers want is to have basic protections everyone should be entitled to so that we can do the best job we can for our young people.’

IWGB Foster Care Workers branch secretary Pauline Graham commented: ‘The question of employment rights for foster care workers goes to the heart of why our foster care system is in crisis.

‘Carers are leaving the system in droves as they are pushed around, victimised and neglected by their employers. The result is a growing number of young people in children's homes. This hard won victory by Jimmy, Christine and the IWGB paves the way for more foster care workers to follow suit in claiming the rights and protections they have been denied for decades. What’s at stake is nothing less than the wellbeing of our most vulnerable children.’

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: 'We strongly refute any allegations of bullying or a lack of support for the Johnston’s who received significant support from social work and health services to maintain their role. They have also continued to be paid not inconsiderable fees while this legal case has been ongoing. What they have not been paid is an allowance, as that money is solely and specifically available to meet the needs of a child and they have had no child in their care.

'This judgement relates to a service that provided a specialist form of foster care. We are now carefully considering the implications of the judgement. The council notes however, that as with the initial employment tribunal decision, the findings in this judgement do not extend to the status of mainstream foster carers.'

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