'Carer worked 70hrs a week' - tribunal

A CARER who worked 70-hour weeks claimed she was “bullied and harassed” into signing a new working agreement which would have slashed her earnings by as much as half.

A CARER who worked 70-hour weeks claimed she was “bullied and harassed” into signing a new working agreement which would have slashed her earnings by as much as half.

Karen O'Shea, of Fordham, near Newmarket, is one of five carers who took Suffolk County Council to an employment tribunal over claims of illegal deductions from pay.

Mrs O'Shea, of Mildenhall Road in Fordham, Marie Barney, of Stanley Road, Newmarket, Deborah McCormack, of Heaseman Close, Newmarket, Diane Gardner, of New England Stud, Newmarket, and Dawn Kelly, of Hethersett Close, Newmarket, support people in their homes.

They claim the council owes them thousands of pounds in illegally deducted earnings between June 1, 2006, and the end of the year, after the council tried to change their working arrangements which prevented them getting overtime above 37 hours a week.

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The tribunal heard how the five women often worked between 50 and 70 hours a week before the new arrangements came into effect on June 1.

The council claimed it did not know the carers had been working excessive hours, despite admitting to the tribunal that it should have known and had been paying them for the hours worked.

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It also claimed the women were already barred from working more than an average 37 hour week under their existing contracts.

The tribunal heard how one of the five had refused to sign up to the new working arrangements. Describing what happened, Mrs O'Shea said: “I was called in on several different occasions. I was bullied and harassed. I was called a “silly little girl” and I was also threatened with the sack. She told me if I did not sign it within a fortnight I would effectively be putting myself out of work.”

Ms Barney, who has 13 years experience as a home carer, said: “It was always an excessive workload. If you worked beyond the 148 hours over four weeks then that was classed as time-and-a-half. From June 2006, our hours virtually halved.”

The group also claimed the changes brought in by the council last June were not effectively communicated.

Philip Snowdon, of the county council, who sat on the appeals panel which heard the group's grievances, said he had been both surprised and “concerned” when he learnt of the excessive hours being worked by some of the council's carers.

He said the changes brought in were meant to protect the interests of part-time workers.

“We certainly were genuinely very surprised by the amount of overtime that the ladies were claiming to have worked.”

Mr Snowdon said he was not aware of the hours the staff had been working, though admitted, while being quizzed by Dr Philip Lewis, on behalf of the five women, the council should have been aware because it was paying them for their hours each month.

A written verdict of the tribunal's decision will be released at a later date.

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