A new report by care workers' union UNISON has highlighted the conditions that care staff who work night shifts regularly experience.

According to the report, "Sleeping In, Losing Out", night shifts workers are regularly sleeping in offices, on dirty mattresses, or anywhere they can find to sleep for the night. It was revealed that there is a lack of adequate washing facilities for care staff on overnight shifts, and toilets are often shared with clients and need to be cleaned before the care workers can use them.

Thirteen per cent of respondents said their sleeping facilities were unsuitable where they worked as night shift care workers. Furthermore, 41% reported feeling bad for not being there at night when their families need them. The same percentage has missed out on family events because of having to sleep away from home.

The report revealed that 81% of night shift care staff were responsible for calming people with learning disabilities or mental health issues when distressed, 43% were assisting vulnerable people to go to the toilet, and 59% were giving medication.

Although the report showed that more than 72% of respondents were so busy they only got a couple of hours sleep a night, the law is still unclear as to whether staff should be paid the National Minimum Wage (NLW) for night shifts. Currently the NLW is not mandatory because it is considered likely that overnight care workers will spend some or all of their time asleep on shifts.

Commenting on the report, UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “This report demonstrates how much sleep-in staff are relied upon. They’re effectively keeping the care system on its feet. Yet workers are hugely undervalued by employers and paid poverty wages.

“It’s totally unacceptable to leave staff to sleep in offices, and not protect them from abuse. More staff could quit their jobs if employers don’t act, leaving care even more in crisis.”

UNISON has called on employers to improve sleep-in working conditions. For example they are being asked to ensure they provide somewhere safe and clean to sleep, carry out proper risk assessments, and the Government is called on to fund the back pay owed to sleep-in shift workers who have not received the national minimum wage.

It is expected that the argument over pay for sleep-in shifts will be settled in an appeal hearing scheduled for 12 and 13 February 2020.

The report, "Sleeping In, Losing Out", is available at www.unison.org.uk.

Last reviewed 25 June 2019