Foster carer to bring tribunal claim over workers’ rights

The Independent Worker’s Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has lodged a tribunal claim on behalf of a foster carer, Sarah Anderson, against Hampshire County Council. IWGB argued that Anderson is a worker and therefore entitled to rights such as holiday pay. The case has the potential to open the floodgates on thousands of similar claims by foster carers.

In the UK foster carers are not currently classified as either workers or employees, despite being paid by local councils, agencies or charities to look after children. General secretary of the IWGB Dr Jason Moyer-Lee said “this case is not about whether or not foster care is a form of work – that ship has sailed – this case is whether those workers should be entitled to the employment rights the rest of us take for granted.”

Anderson, who also chairs the IWGB’s foster care workers’ branch, added: “As foster care workers we are exploited, have no rights whatsoever and are treated as a disposable workforce, when society needs carers more than ever. We can’t advocate or look after our children properly if our rights aren’t recognised and protected.”

This isn’t the first case of its kind, and the IWGB has previously brought and won a case on behalf of two foster carers. In August, Glasgow Employment Tribunal ruled that James and Christine Johnstone were employees, with the judgement focusing on the level of control the council had over them.

In a previous case, however, there was a different outcome. The Court of Appeal ruled that, because the relationship between carers and their organisation is not based on a legal contract, foster carers could not be classified as workers. But in Anderson’s case, the IWGB are arguing that, under European law, such a contract is not required to establish an employment relationship.

The case comes amid intense scrutiny on new working relationships derived from the gig economy, and it’s perhaps not surprising that the light is being shone on a very fundamental relationship. The ruling is sure to be an important one in determining how foster carers are classified what rights they are entitled to, and could affect a large number of people –  according to The Fostering Network, there are almost 55,000 foster families across the UK caring for nearly 64,000 children. Hampshire County Council, however, told the BBC that the law is clear and foster carers are not workers.

We’ll keep you updated on how the case unfolds and what decision is made. In the meantime, you can contact Alison for HR advice here.

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