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Thursday, 03 August 2017

'Landmark' ruling says husband and wife foster carers are Glasgow City Council employees

Written by Hilary Duncanson

A husband and wife team who have been working as foster carers have succeeded in a bid to be recognised as council employees following a "landmark" tribunal ruling.

James and Christine Johnstone raised employment tribunal claims seeking compensation in part for what they alleged was unlawful deduction of wages.

Glasgow City Council raised an initial point arguing that the tribunal did not have jurisdiction to hear the claims on the basis that the pair were neither employees nor workers providing a service to the local authority.

The employment tribunal ruled on Wednesday that the couple were employees of the council and that it can hear the claims.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which was involved in the case, described it as a landmark ruling and a massive victory for employment rights for foster care workers, arguing that carers not recognised as workers or employees are denied rights such as protection from unfair dismissal and protection for whistleblowing.

Glasgow City Council is considering the decision and has the option to appeal against it. It also stressed that the judgment does not make a wider ruling on the status of mainstream foster carers.

One of the factors in the judgment was the nature of the work carried out by the couple, known as multi-dimensional treatment foster care (MTFC).

At the time of the tribunal, the city council had around 600 foster carers, with nine in the MTFC programme.

In the ruling, Employment Judge McFatridge stated: "Looking at the contract as a whole I would agree with the claimants' (the Johnstones') primary submission that ... the claimants in this case were employees."

He went on: "What is of considerable weight is the mutuality of obligation and the very high degree of control which is exerted over the claimants in carrying out their duties. It appears that the respondents (the council) are under a duty to offer work and the claimants are under an obligation to do it."

The ruling stated: "The claimants were employees of the respondents and the tribunal has jurisdiction to hear the claims. The matter should now proceed to a final hearing."

However, in making his decision, the judge also stressed: "I am not in any way making a finding about the status or ordinary mainstream foster carers.

"What I am saying is that on the basis of the facts in the current case, the claimants were employees of the respondents."

The IWGB said this is the first case it is aware of in which foster care workers have been recognised as employees by a UK tribunal.

"This is a massive victory for employment rights for foster care workers in the UK," said IWGB general secretary Jason Moyer-Lee.

He encouraged the council to accept the decision and added: "Other local authorities should take note."

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: "We are considering the terms of this decision and it would be inappropriate to comment on this specific claim at present.

"However, we do note that the employment judge has explicitly made clear that his findings in this case do not extend to the status of mainstream foster carers."

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