UNIONS have called for urgent reform of the care sector in Scotland as it emerged one in ten are on zero hours contracts.

A new analysis by the Scottish Trades Union Congress has raised concern that one in five are on non-permanent contracts and called for an end to what it described as "low pay and exploitative working processes" which have had "fatal consequences" through the Covid crisis.

And it is concerned that the ten care providers in Scotland with the highest Covid death totals were all run for profit.

The STUC raised its concerns while warning that care workers are more than twice as likely to die from Covid than health workers.

At least 3,400 Scottish care home residents have died from coronavirus between March 20, last year and April 8 - amounting to a third of all of Scotland's Covid-related deaths.

It is wanting to ensure a not-for-profit National Care Service materialises and that there is an increase in social care funding. It also says there should be  a new workforce plan based on the principles of Fair Work - which balances the rights and responsiblities of employers and workers.

The Fair Work Convention is an independent body which advises ministers on how improvements to working life can help the country’s economy.

According to the official figures the median hourly rate for residential care in Scotland in 2020 was £10.50.

Scottish Social Services Services Council figures show that around 11% of the care sector appear to be on zero hour contracts or equivalent.

Most of the workforce have permanent contracts (82%) and around 11% of the workforce appear to be on zero hours contracts or equivalent.

Some 18% do not have permanent contracts.

Slightly more than half are in full time positions (51%) and the median number of hours worked is 32.

STUC general secretary Roz Foyer said: “We have certainly seen an increase in the political attention paid to social care over the course of the pandemic and now during the Scottish election campaign. However, there can be no let-up in the campaign to reform the sector.

“The first steps must be to raise carers’ wages, create the structures for national collective bargaining and reform service commissioning which currently obstructs decent pay rates and pushes provision into the private sector. "But we also need to create a National Care Service where profit has no role, particularly when those profits so often flow to tax avoiding private equity companies.”

The STUC analysis warned that service users in the community have struggled as local authorities were unable to meet increased demand for support.

"Low-pay and exploitative working practices has had fatal consequences for the workforce which is predominantly made up of women and has a disproportionately large number of black and minority ethnic (BAME) workers.

"Care Inspectorate reports continue to identify serious health and safety issues more than a year after the initial outbreak.

"It cannot be right that such a highly skilled workforce, critical to the functioning of society, is valued so poorly. Without immediate action to improve pay and conditions we will continue to see a crisis in recruitment and retention."

It comes as leading social care organisations called for all political parties to back full implementation of a National Care Service in Scotland.

An open letter backed by 30 charities and providers says the vision of the Scottish Government-commissioned Independent Review of Adult Social Care, which was published in February, must not be “watered down”.

One of the most radical steps outlined in the report, by former NHS Scotland chief executive Derek Feeley, was moving accountability for social care from local government to Scottish ministers.

When it was published councils – which are currently responsible for social care in their area – raised concerns over the removal of “local democratic accountability”.

HeraldScotland:

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said there would be work with local authorities to find the “best way” to secure the review’s recommendations and the “spirit of its intent”.

Plans for a National Care Service is a key policy in the SNP’s manifesto.

The First Minister told STUC delegates that if re-elected, the SNP “will increase the frontline NHS spending by at least 20%” leading to “more than £2.5 billion of additional investment”.

But she stressed that “perhaps the most substantial reform we will make in the next term will be in our social care sector”.

The SNP has pledged in its manifesto to begin establishing the service in the first year of the new parliament, with Nicola Sturgeon saying it will be a “top priority”.

The open letter, signed by key organisations including Scottish Care, Inclusion Scotland, Health and Social Care Alliance, Carers Scotland and Carers Trust, states: “We believe that the vision of a national system but with local accountability is critical and we are deeply concerned that there should be any attempt to water down or diminish the development of a National Care Service.

“The current system of social care being commissioned and resourced by local authorities has simply not worked especially for those who matter most – those who use care support.”

Dr Donald Macaskill, CEO of Scottish Care, said the pain of the pandemic meant there was a need to build a new future and “not simply tinker with the models of the past”.

He said: “This letter expresses the very real concern from those who provide care services and those who use them that the vision of a National Care Service is in danger of not happening because of the desire of local authorities to retain much of their existing control and influence.

“The voice of those who matter most – those who use supports, who deliver unpaid care and those who professionally provide that care cannot be drowned out by a desire to resist change.”

The SNP says it plans to introduce a national wage for care staff ‘and enter into national pay bargaining for the sector based on fair work principles for the first time’.