A SURREY care worker has described how she has tried to spare her family distress by playing down how closely she works with service users during the pandemic.

UNISON told the county council’s cabinet of the worker’s plight, along with another woman who every week waits in fear for her coronavirus test result.

The public services trade union thinks care staff should be better financially rewarded. They had expected a two per cent raise for all care home staff from April 2021, but the council revised its offer after Chancellor Rishi Sunak said in his November spending review all public sector pay except NHS staff would be frozen.

Paul Couchman, Surrey County UNISON branch secretary, said at Tuesday’s (January 26) cabinet meeting: “Surrey County Council has never meekly followed the diktats of central government, so why start now?”

He relayed the experience of a union member who said: “Every time I get to work though it crosses my mind – is this the day I pick up Covid-19?

“As a care worker I have to work closely with the service users. It’s just not possible to do the job if you don’t. I’ve washed and shaved them, helped them do their washing, put away their clothes.

“I can’t tell my family that the service users are positive as they’d be horrified that I was working so close to infection.”

Another woman said: “This year has been awful. Every Friday evening – in time to make or break my weekend and possibly the rest of my life – my test results, positive or negative come through.

“I look forward to a time when my Friday evenings are not spent fearfully looking out for that text message.”

A UNISON spokesperson said: “At Mallow [Crescent, residential home in Guildford] the second outbreak has been much more serious in terms of infection than the first.

“We have had six staff members test positive with the virus this time although no residents. At least two have been quite ill although not hospitalised.”

Over 800 people signed a petition asking the council to reintroduce enhanced pay rates for rotaed shifts that involve weekends, late nights and bank holidays.

These were introduced temporarily for care home staff in April, to reward them for the extra work they took on during the pandemic, but were withdrawn after six months.

The council agreed to reinstate the enhancements, from January 1, and also gave a £250 award to frontline social care staff.

“We don’t think this was anywhere near enough, but it was a start,” said Mr Couchman.

“Of course we were pleased when the council eventually responded positively to our lobbying, negotiations and petition, but the £250 one-off payment will not even cover the potential lost earnings for some of our members, and the current pay offer will be an effective pay cut for many as well.”

Those on the lowest pay grade of £17,457 are being given a 2.15% raise, but most offers are less and many salaries remain the same.

The union argues a pay freeze amounts to a pay cut when taking into account inflation, because wages fall behind as the cost of living increases.

They would like the enhancements to be backdated to October 1 when they were stopped.

Cllr Sinead Mooney, Surrey County Council cabinet member for adult social care and public health, told cabinet some of his points sounded valid and she would discuss them with the service director and HR team.

“I hear this year has been awful, I acknowledge and accept that,” she said.

“This is a very tense and difficult environment for people to be working in.

“I do consider this staffing group to be incredibly brave and show truly tremendous personal courage on every level.”

Mr Couchman said he was ‘very pleased’ with her response. “I really hope it wasn’t just words and that a meeting takes place as soon as possible with the responsible council officers,” he said.