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Care staff "shocked"

Wednesday, 22nd December, 2010

Southern Cross Care is outsourcing its catering and laundry services Southern Cross Care is outsourcing its catering and laundry services

By Andrew Robertson

Southern Cross Care (SCC) has defended a decision to outsource catering and laundry services which has left staff "shocked and extremely upset".

Thirty-eight catering and laundry staff were last week told SCC was contracting out the services to Medirest from mid February for three years following a review.

In a letter to the employees, chief executive Allan Carter said the decision would allow SCC to focus on the "direct care of our residents".

But Town Employees Union secretary Rosslyn Ferry slammed the aged care accommodation provider's decision, which came less than two weeks before Christmas, describing it as "cold and callous".

Ms Ferry, who met with affected staff on Monday, said it was still unclear how many would be hired by Medirest but it was almost certain some would not get their job back.

"Employees are angry and shocked and extremely upset at the manner Southern Cross Care have handled this," she said.

"No board member involved in this decision should feel happy about the decision and the manner in which it was handled. 

The timing is absolutely atrocious ...." She said the only positive was that employees retained by Medirest would continue to be employed under their current enterprise agreement.

That agreement expires on June 30 and Ms Ferry said the union would seek to enter immediate negotiations for a new agreement to "safeguard conditions".

She also criticised SCC for not telling staff about the true nature of a meeting they were invited to last Wednesday.

A notice to staff said only that SCC was considering creating a Hotel Services section that would "see all functions associated with kitchen and laundry become an organisation-wide responsibility".

It was only when the meeting started that the staff were informed about the decision to outsource services to Medirest, Ms Ferry said.

Mr Carter yesterday defended the decision by SCC to bring in a contractor, saying it believed it "was the best way forward".

But he said he could not guarantee that all 38 employees would keep their jobs. Medirest plans to interview the employees over three days fromJanuary 11.

"We would expect the vast majority, if they want to work for Medirest, will be employed." He said the impending opening of the Harold Williams Home triggered the review that led to the decision to outsource catering and laundry.

SCC had for some time been trying to recruit for a new position that would have been responsible for the overall operation of the expanded catering services, without success, he said.

It was that inability to "recruit or have on site people who had the skills to drive hotel services" that was behind the decision to hand over responsibility of the services to Medirest.

"We find it very difficult to get the top level of expertise in," Mr Carter said. "They (Medirest) have the scale to be able to do it whereas we don't havethe expertise to do it."

Mr Carter denied the decision was made to save money, saying SCC expected the change to result in "a better service at the same cost".

He also defended the timing of the announcement to staff. "As soon as we were in a position to make an announcement then we wanted to inform staff as soon as possible. 

"If we had left the announcement until after Christmas we would have been criticised for sitting on it." Mr Carter and a representative from Medirest is meeting the union tomorrow afternoon.

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