THOUSANDS of Scottish workers are being paid by the minute in pennies, The Herald on Sunday can reveal.
The details have emerged as part of a wider investigation into the gig economy, and precarious and insecure employment in Scotland.
At least 10 per cent of the total Scottish workforce – some 259,000 people – deemed to be in insecure employment.
• Concerns that some social enterprises – firms meant to provide a social good and often in receipt of support from the taxpayer – are engaged in questionable employment practices.
- The rise of "bogus self-employment" where firms bring staff onboard, including waitresses and baristas, under self-employed terms – thereby not paying tax, national insurance, holiday pay, sick pay, or pension contributions – but treat them on the same terms as if they were staff
• Evidence of cash-in-hand payments used routinely in the gig economy, raising questions about losses to the exchequer.
Trade union activists have described some of the worst examples of precarious employment as "Dickensian", "Victorian" and a throwback to the relationship between factory owners and workers in the 19th century. They also called on the Scottish government to tackle the problem with action, not words.
The "paid by the minute" scandal centres on the care industry where councils outsource care at home to private or charitable companies. Care staff are electronically monitored – clocking in and out of a client’s home – using technology such as mobile phones or iPads.
As an example, if a carer has five jobs in an hour each lasting six minutes then they will be paid by the minute for a total of 30 minutes. If the worker is on the Scottish living wage – £8.75 an hour – this would see them earn approximately £4.38 for an hour’s work, or just under 15 pence per minute. Many are not paid for the time in between jobs, or for travel to and from jobs.
Scottish Care, which represents private care providers, estimates that the practice of "paying by the minute" occurs in half of Scotland’s 32 council areas. An estimated 15 per cent – or 8550 people – of the private care workforce, which stands at 57,000, are on zero-hours contracts, where most of the "paid by the minute" work is found. However, the numbers on ZHCs rises to 20-25 per cent in the sector of "older people’s care". Care providers and carers are also penalised if workers stay over the allotted time per visit, in the event of a client being ill or distressed.
Scottish Care said: “Over the last few years Scottish Care has continually argued for improvements to conditions which make employment in the care sector precarious for too many individuals. One of these is the call to offer properly funded contracts to providers to enable them to reduce dependency on zero-hour contracts ... While admittedly some staff desire the flexibility that such contracts provide them with, from our research the vast majority of providers wish to move to a situation where adequate funding makes full-time contracts for the care workforce a possibility.
“The main reason for the existence of zero-hours contracts is the discriminatory practice around the way in which care is bought from charitable and private providers by the public authorities. A local authority only pays for the work which is done rather than what may be intended. This makes it impossible to guarantee hours for many, especially smaller care providers. ... At the moment many, especially smaller organisations, are effectively paid by the minute and therefore by extension unless the provider has its own reserves and assets the worker is paid by the minute. This is no way to deliver care in the 21st century. We are faced with a scenario where workers are pressurised to get tasks done in as quick a time as possible and are penalised if they are late for their next client. For the person receiving the care this makes the whole experience less than dignified despite the best efforts of individual care workers ... This is especially unacceptable when we are talking about supporting people with palliative and end-of-life care.”
Dr Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, said: "There is something very wrong about a local authority treating its own staff fairly and well and yet treating the staff of services they buy in, whether they are employed by a charity or private care provider, in a manner which is little less than exploitative. Workers are made to clock in and clock out and their organisations are only being paid by the minute, and even then if a worker is late or stays longer because someone needs more help or is ill they are being penalised."
Jim McCourt, one of Scotland’s most prominent trade unionists who runs the Inverclyde Advice and Employment Rights Centre in Greenock, explained, "It’s the ultimate in the gig economy," says McCourt. He blamed the issue on care providers bidding against each other for council contracts and creating “a race to the bottom” in the market. “They bid with prices they can’t meet and it is their workers who suffer," he said.
"These private care companies are funded by the public purse as they are contracted by councils – so our tax pounds are propping up this system. This is about looking after the most vulnerable people in society. We are looking at a value set here – if people think there is money to be made in this way out of caring for the sick and elderly then there is something very wrong, especially if the public purse is being used."