23 October: A landmark ruling for the rights of foster care workers that could have a major impact on any future cases for rights in the sector, will be defended today (23 October) at the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
Glasgow City Council is appealing an employment tribunal decision from 2017 that granted foster care workers Jimmy and Christine Johnston employee rights, including sick pay, holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and protections for whistleblowing.
This judgement is the first time a UK court ruled that foster care workers are entitled to employment rights that are systematically denied by their employers. The absence of whistleblowing protections, combined with the general precarity of their employment conditions, means foster care workers are often intimidated when it comes to speaking out, including on safeguarding concerns or other matters that would improve care standards for the children under their care.
Ian Mearns MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Foster Care Work, says: “Christine and Jimmy Johnstone have fought tirelessly for basic employment rights on behalf of all foster care workers. The court ruling in their favour must be upheld, not only because it is right but because it is essential to the integrity of the foster care system as a whole and the rights of Foster Carers as workers in the child care system. As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Foster Carers and alongside the IWGB, I am honoured to support carers like Jimmy and Christine and it is right and fitting that I do so! Together, we will fight to pass vital legislation to recognise their rights and help safeguard the children in their care.”
Jimmy Johnstone, claimant of the case against Glasgow City Council, says: “As foster care workers, we provide an essential public service, caring for some of the UK’s most vulnerable children. All we want is to be allowed to do our job safely and well. Hopefully when all this is finished, we will have secured the rights we need to do this, not just for us, but for every single foster care worker in the UK.”
Though the Johnstons worked in a specialised scheme, their story echoes the experience of many foster care workers across the UK, who have no entitlement to basic employment rights such as holiday pay and protections for whistleblowing. Most work under “agreements”, which are not considered contracts of employment.
The 2017 judgement ruled that these “agreements” fail to reflect the “very high degree of control” by the council, by which foster care workers could not work for anyone else or turn down placements from the local authority.
The Johnstons 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 care workers in 2016 with employment rights for foster carers as one of our primary objectives. The union has adopted a two-pronged approach to achieve this objective, utilising litigation and acting as secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Foster Care Work, to reform legislation in the sector.
IWGB’s crowdfund to defend this landmark judgement has raised over £4,000. Money raised will help fund the case’s legal costs, with any remaining funds reinvested in other landmark legal challenges. 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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