24 September: The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) is launching a crowdfund today to raise £20,000 to defend a landmark judgement granting employment rights to a type of specialist foster care workers.
Glasgow County Council is appealing an employment tribunal decision from 2017 that granted foster care workers Jimmy and Christine Johnstone employee rights, including sick pay, holiday pay and a guaranteed minimum wage. The appeal will be heard on 22 and 23 October at the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
The 2017 judgment was the first time a UK court decided that foster carers were entitled to employment rights. Despite the council claiming a hands-off approach, the judgment describes an arrangement with “very high degree of control”, where they could not work for anyone else or turn down placements from the local authority.
The money the union is raising will help fund the case’s legal costs, with any funds left over being reinvested in other landmark legal challenges.
The Johnstones worked in a highly specialised scheme but their story echoes the experience of many foster carers, who have no entitlement to employment rights. Most carers throughout the UK work under “agreements”, which are not considered contracts of employment and deny basic rights such as holiday pay and protections for whistleblowing. However, the agreements do not reflect the true nature of the dynamic. Foster carers depend heavily on the decisions of local authorities and Independent Fostering Agencies for work and pay, meaning they are often apprehensive when it comes to speaking out, even if it would improve care standards.
Jimmy Johnstone, claimant of the case against Glasgow City Council, said: *
“We were not prepared for the way the council treated us and were thrilled when the initial judgment came out. The council has disappointingly decided to appeal instead of doing the right thing and granting basic rights for all of its foster carers. We will continue to fight for justice until the very end, not only for us but for all carers”*
The Johnstones will be represented by Aidan O’Neill QC, who is instructed by Balfour Mansons. The case will be heard at Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), 52 Melville St, Edinburgh EH3 7HF.
The IWGB began recruiting foster carers in 2016 with rights for foster carers as one of its primary objectives. It has adopted a two-pronged approach to achieve their objective, utilising litigation and the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Foster Care Work to reform legislation in the sector. The union currently has a case in England arguing that a foster carer under a less specialised scheme is also working under employment rights.
The IWGB is the leading union for precarious workers, having taken on other big names such as Uber, Deliveroo and the University of London.
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