Alchemy halves wages of care assistants at homes

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The Independent Online

Alchemy, the venture capital company buying Rover's Longbridge plant, is cutting care workers' wages by nearly half at two south London residential homes it owns. Nursing assistants at the homes have been given 30 days' notice that their wages are to be reduced from an average £10 an hour to £5.65.

This will further anger Rover unions, among the Labour Party's biggest financial donors, which are deeply suspicious of Alchemy.

Yesterday The Independent revealed that Alchemy was closing one of the oldest breweries in Wiltshire to build shops and houses. The company refused to sell it to managers, claiming they were not offering enough money, but denied that Alchemy was asset-stripping.

The care workers, employed by the Alchemy subsidiary Four Seasons Healthcare, have also been told that their holiday entitlement will be cut and work breaks will be granted only when the company deems convenient. There will be no premium rates for overtime and no London or shift allowances. Alchemy had been accused of "sub-standard care" at Park Lodge, one of the wage-cut units. The Health and Safety Executive is investigating.

The company has also denied asset-stripping in the intended closure of Holybourne House, another of its homes. At a meeting between management and staff last Tuesday asenior manager said he believed there would be no consultation on the issues. Aiden Grimes, of the Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Council, said: "Even the Tory leader of Wandsworth Council has called them a ruthless bunch. This shows how ruthless they can be. Even when they're in the spotlight, making money is their first instinct. Rover workers beware."

Hamilton Anstead, chief executive of Four Seasons Healthcare, which runs 100 residential units, said the homes were losing money because wages were so far above the market rate. He said the going rate for care assistants in London was around £5 to £6 an hour.

"The fact that an employer is renegotiating terms and conditions because a business is losing money is hardly news," he added. "Maybe it would have been better if they had renegotiated terms and conditions at Longbridge."

Unions at Rover hope a consortium led by John Towers, former Rover chief executive, can outbid Alchemy for Longbridge and pledge mass production of cars at the site.