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Landmark legal victory opens door to worker rights for UK foster carers

31 August 2020 06:55
  • For the first time ever, a UK Employment Appeal Tribunal finds foster care workers were council employees entitled to employment rights
  • The case, which cuts to the heart of the UK’s national foster care crisis, sets a major precedent for the sector
  • Foster care workers are calling on the Scottish and UK governments to review their foster care arrangements and grant employment right to all foster carers

31 August: The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has won a landmark ruling that will open the doors for employment rights for foster care workers throughout the UK, setting a major precedent for the sector.

Foster care workers and IWGB members Jimmy and Christine Johnstone launched the case in 2017 after being left in fear for their lives and the life of a young person in their care. Following an initial victory, Glasgow City Council appealed the ruling. This week the Edinburgh Employment Appeal Tribunal has upheld the initial decision that Jimmy and Christine Johnstone were council employees.

The IWGB has argued successfully that they were entitled to the employee rights systematically denied by the council, including sick pay, holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and protections for whistleblowing. The union is campaigning for these rights to be granted to all foster care workers.

Though the Johnstones worked in a specialised scheme for children with complex needs their story echoes those of foster care workers nationwide. Due to precarious working conditions and the lack of whistleblowing protections, foster care workers are vulnerable to exploitation, bullying and intimidation when it comes to speaking out for their basic rights as well as those of the children in their care.

Jimmy Johnstone, claimant in the case against Glasgow City Council, says: “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. 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 says: “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.”

-ENDS-

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Notes to Editors:

  • Foster care workers throughout the UK are denied basic worker rights such as holiday pay, minimum wage and protections for whistleblowing.
  • The IWGB began recruiting foster care workers in 2016 with worker 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.
  • The initial 2017 judgement in the Johnstones’ case ruled that these “agreements” fail to reflect the “very high degree of control” by the city council, by which foster care workers could not work for anyone else or turn down placements from the local authority. That view has been upheld.
  • On 23 October 2019 the Johnstones returned to the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Edinburgh to defend their victory, which has now been upheld.
  • The Johnstones were represented by Aidan O’Neill QC

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