Nursery workers refuse to be classed as self-employed: worker’s report

The government made tax changes on Sunday 6 April which many employers are using an an excuse to force self-employment on their workersPhil T works at a care centre for children in west London that is trying precisely that. Here are details of the situation – and what Phil and fellow workers are trying to do about it.

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I work for a nursery chain, Monkey Puzzle. I went there with the intention of organising at work – the bigger, the better for me. I’ve worked at nurseries as an EYFS practitioner for nearly two years now. I’m getting a good idea of what is upsetting most of my colleagues. Standards of nursery nurse training in the workplace have fallen very low.  The apprentices on £2.68 an hour working 45 hours a week can testify to that. Nurseries are notoriously expensive. They force many parents to reach out to an extended network to help with childecare and childecare costs. These including informal arrangements such as nanny sharing.

Monkey Puzzle in west Kensington has a child capacity of 85 and charges £75 for a full day. The company turns almost £1.2m a year assuming it runs at capacity. Most employees are paid the legal minimum of £6.31 increasing in October to £6.50 for ages 21+. Monkey Puzzle has about 17 staff and rapidly turns over temporary agency workers, as nurseries typically do.

The regulator Ofsted constantly changes the rules, piling on more folder work, child development checks and so on. This leads to rising tension between managers and employees. Some colleagues discuss the idea of private nannying to counter low pay. This seems like an escape option from poor conditions and low wages while remaining in childcare.

But there is an alternative – collective bargaining with the bosses.

Employee, self-employed – or worker?

The company want to make its employees change status to self-employed. We are told this is a new system that will benefit us greatly. We can claim expenses back on travel, meals, training through the company’s pay portal. But many of us are refusing this change. The manager wants us to sign the new agreement and is threatening to deduct pay. He wants to boost profits by cutting our holiday pay, sick pay, bank holidays and more.

Government tax changes have signalled a crackdown on onshore employment intermediaries and false self-employment. This is supposed to clarify laws on self-employment and payroll companies. Employers have been avoiding tax by telling workers they are self-employed for some time now – a common and growing practice in nursery care work.

Childcare involves legal obligation to work “without substitution” for a nursery. We can’t get someone else to do the job we’re hired for. But management want to bring contracts where “the childcarer may use a substitute”. You hire a plumber to fix a boiler and Helen might turn up instead of Kevin. No “personal service” requirement.

I’m saying to my workmates: is this really what we expect of childcare?  The companycontrols the work we do to a very high degree. The children don’t benefit. The workers don’t benefit. Just the company. The nursery system does not involve high labour costs. An ordinary business will generally spend 60% of its turnover on staff. In childcare that figure is 15%.

Being bold

Unite the union says “anyone subject to significant control, supervision or direction in relation to their work should be deemed to be employed for tax and employment rights purposes”. This union backing means we can contact Regional Industrial Officers to get support or to come down and speak with workers.

Two of my colleages have now joined in refusing to sign the agreement. They don’t trust it. Organising against false self-employment is a bold start that can lead onto campaign over the London Living Wage, say. I think the way forward is:

  1. distribute the Unite advice to colleagues
  2. get the workforce supporting the campaign and involved in the union
  3. demand that management take us on as employees and not self-employed contractors
  4. get the Regional Industrial Officer more membership forms and recognition templates to the site
  5. use the staffroom notice board to thrash out the the arguments etc

USEFUL LINKS:

MUST READ:  the “pay portal” agreement

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