31 March 2017 West Scotland and Glasgow
A couple who have been working as foster carers for six years are to take their case to be classed as council employees to a tribunal.
James and Christine Johnstone claim to have suffered an unlawful deduction of wages after not having a child placed with them for a year.
They say they should have the same rights as all Glasgow City Council staff. The council said it would inappropriate to comment before any tribunal.
Foster carers currently sign an agreement with councils – but this is not deemed to be an employment contract.
Mr and Mrs Johnstone claim to have been the victims of what they term as whistleblowing. They want compensation for the withdrawal of wages but need to be regarded as employees to do so.
Mr Johnstone said: “We’ve worked with five different young people within our home. Initially, we had a lot of support.
“When you see a young person come in, it can take a long time, maybe three to six months, to get through to them. But we stick with it, they stick with it and when you can see a change at the end of that where they go back with their families, it tugs at the heart strings.
“That’s what it’s all about. It’s life-changing work and were central to that.” Mr Johnstone added: “We are paid a fee, but with most foster carers it is just a fee and not a salary. They don’t have holidays, holiday pay or anything at all, and this needs to be looked at.
“You are asking people to come in and look after society’s vulnerable young people and they don’t have any rights. “Right across the country there are foster carers getting abused, removed for complaining, for anything. And this affects, most importantly, the young people you are trying to work with. “
The Johnstones believe a change in the law would mean councils had a clear duty of care to foster carers – not just the children they look after.
The couple are being backed by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain which believes the case could have wide-ranging implications for the future status of foster carers throughout the country.
IWGB general secretary Jason Moyer-Lee said: “This case is about a couple of foster carers who say they are employees in law and as such should be able to claim for unlawful deduction of wages, protection from discrimination, minimum wage and all the rights that come with employee status.
“These foster carers being recognised as employees would make a massive difference because, right now, they are paid for the work and they have some rights but it is entirely voluntary in what they are given in terms of holidays and this type of thing.
“If they were recognised as employees in law they would have the full suite of employment rights that employees have which foster care workers don’t have.”
Glasgow City Council said it would be inappropriate to comment on the specific case involving Mr and Mrs Johnston before it is considered at an employment tribunal.
A spokesman said: “However, we can say we provide comprehensive support to our foster carers. “Our fostering service is regulated by the Care Inspectorate and has recently received a positive inspection report.
“Issues raised by foster carers are always taken seriously and we will work with carers to resolve any difficulties they face.”
It is expected a date for the tribunal will sit early this summer.