Jacky works as a Cleaner in a care home in Glasgow. This is her story.
Everyone tells me “but at least you are still working, at least you still have your full wage, at least you aren’t stuck at home” … I don’t think they realise what a horrible time this has been for health care workers.
When COVID-19 was first declared a pandemic, I asked myself what can we possibly do to avoid it getting it in the home and protect the residents. That feeling of responsibility was a lot to deal with. Every day I watched the news after work and seen the increasing death toll… I saw the virus sweep through local care homes and knew it would come. Staff started to question each other about sticking to the lockdown restrictions. Everyone was so filled with anxiety and it was clear in everyone’s faces.
This of course, was not just about the safety of ourselves and families, but our beloved residents, who we care so much for. It was hard enough that they no longer got to have visitors, it was our job to keep them feeling positive – however, this became increasingly difficult as the weeks progressed.
We started getting our temperature taken before started work, to identify staff with the virus. Many got sent home for having a temperature, even though there was no testing available at the beginning. Resulting in them having to isolate for 7 days, even though they may not have had the virus at all.
My colleague then became very ill and ended up in hospital – she had COVID-19. This has sadly led to several residents and staff members contracting the virus. Several residents have now died and it has been a truly heart-breaking experience.
I was told that cleaners still needed to clean the rooms of residents that have tested positive – despite other care homes stating only care staff were required. I wore PPE constantly and cleaned vigorously to help prevent the spread of the virus. I wore a mask that I could barely breath in, in a roasting hot care home.
I was so scared to get the virus, hearing such awful stories of people – similar to myself – being hospitalised or experiencing awful symptoms for months. It became all I could think about.
Then, in May I started to feel unwell, thankfully by this stage health care workers were able to get tested for the virus. The testing was only available to those who could drive, which I can’t but thankfully, my daughter was able to take me. I was positive for COVID-19.
I was very vigilant in sticking to the lockdown rules and the only person I lived with – my daughter – was working from home, therefore it was clear I had contracted the virus through work. My daughter also developed symptoms and I was really worried as she has asthma. Thankfully, we both had mild symptoms that lasted just over a week.
My job does not have sick pay, which means I only received statutory sick pay. After 7 days, I was expected to return back to work but I didn’t feel ready and asked for a further two days. I was then asked for a sick line – despite having a positive result for COVID-19. I phoned my doctors for a sick line and they said the Doctor was not doing that – surely my work would understand? … I told my work and they said it would be fine.
Then I got my pay and it was even less than I expected. I only received £95 for the first week I was off and then nothing for the additional two days. I asked and they said it was because I didn’t provide a sick line, despite saying it was fine. I then phoned the Doctors, again… and they were very surprised at this. Apparently, all other workplaces have understood needing longer than 7 days for COVID-19 and they found it shocking my work expected this – especially when it’s only for SSP.
I returned to work 10 days after testing positive and everyone questioned me. Should you be going back already? Do you not need a negative test? No. The advice is only 7 days I said. I took an extra 2 days to ensure I didn’t still have symptoms. Colleagues started to challenge each other, clearly scared they too would get the virus.
I have been very vocal around how unfair I find it that we don’t get sick pay – for a virus we got through work. Then the manager advised me that we would all be receiving a bonus for working through this. Well that’s something, I thought… especially because I was financially hit by only receiving SSP.
Everyone got their letters saying they will be receiving a bonus in their May pay. Where’s my letter? Then, I was told that those who were off sick in April and May would not receive a bonus. I was furious. I felt undervalued and disregarded. I have never had a sick day, except with this virus, that I got through work. Not to mention, all those colleagues that were sent home for having a temperature but didn’t even get a test. My manager agreed but said the decision was taken from above.
No. I was not accepting this. I immediately joined a union. I think I should have joined earlier but I always felt it was a lot of money to pay, while in a job just over minimum wage. However, this showed me that it was important I had the defence if needed and somewhere I can go to seek advice. Surely, they cannot do this with the bonuses? At this point I didn’t care if it was £10 or £100. It was the principle. I risked my life to come to work and this is how I have been treated. I told the Manager that I would be contacting the union about this.
Then, a week later my manager said it was all a mix-up and we will all receive the bonus. Mix-up or perhaps a back track…. Either way they knew it wasn’t right and they would be challenged. I received a £150 bonus.
I am still glad to have joined a union, as I see the work they are doing to fight the awful SSP.
It felt like it was constantly one thing after another. Everything was a fight.
Thankfully, so far, all my colleagues have recovered, but sadly that can’t be said about all the residents. My mental health has really been hit through this. Yes, we are used to residents dying but not like this. Not in large numbers in such a short period of time – often with no family. I have come home crying nearly every day.
I know so many are struggling through this pandemic and I really hope there is investment in mental health services after it. However, I think what has happened in the care homes has been absolutely awful and it highlights the problem with providing care for profit.
I loved my job before this, despite the poor wages – I just hope I will still have a job by the end of this.