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18.10.2022 / News /

Domestic and sexual abuse charity counsellors are workers, judge rules

“I am deeply grateful to my peers for sticking together and pursuing this claim, and for the enormous work that UVW has undertaken to support us through this claim.”

Beth Stevens, UVW member

Counsellors working for domestic and sexual abuse charity Solace Women’s Aid have been misclassified as self-employed independent contractors for years but are indeed workers entitled to employment rights, a judge ruled yesterday. This legal victory is another blow to the ‘gig economy’ of bogus self-employment and erosion of workers rights.

The charity’s choice of inappropriate status meant the counsellors, who are United Voices of the World (UVW) members, were denied basic working rights over years of service. The Solace workers are also bringing legal claims for backdated paid annual leave under the Working Time Regulations, in their fight for fair terms and conditions.

Jana Haragalova, counsellor for Solace and UVW member, said: “I am pleased that the judge recognised and confirmed our entitlement to a different work status but I am also saddened that we had to go to court in order for this to be rectified. It is sad to learn that Solace is willing to spend their charity funding on barristers fighting their own staff-women in low-paid caring roles seeking recognition of their rights. It is not an action congruent with the female empowerment message the organisation is trying to project outwardly.”

The  judge ruled that the charity had misclassified the counsellors as self-employed independent contractors when in reality they were workers, under s.230(3)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996. This false status meant they had no access to even the most basic rights at work for years. 

Celine Coyne, counsellor for Solace and UVW member, said: “I’m very happy with the outcome. It saddens me to see organisations that are there to help people, show very little signs of helping their own staff. Surely this is what needs to be in place first, in order for all to thrive.”

The judgement declared that the UVW members are in fact  “Limb B workers”, who generally work under a contract for service. The counsellors working for the domestic and sexual abuse charity generally had fixed working hours, were contracted to work for 46 weeks per year and never received paid annual leave while working for Solace.

Beth Stevens, former counsellor for Solace and UVW member, said: “This is a huge victory, yet there is still a difference between the counsellors’ contracts and that of permanent staff. May this victory lead senior management to reflect on their approach towards their staff team and upgrade the employment contracts of all Solace counsellors. May the contracts accurately reflect and reward the true nature of the work that the counsellors do. I am deeply grateful to my peers for sticking together and pursuing this claim, and for the enormous work that UVW has undertaken to support us through this claim.”

The Solace workers are also bringing legal claims for backdated holiday pay against Solace under the Working Time Regulations, in their fight for fair terms and conditions. The workers should now be protected against discrimination in the workplace and have the right to organise through a trade union, among other rights. 

Maggie Hayes, UVW union organiser, said: “The court judgement should send a warning to other employers that staff of such organisations deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and should be afforded their legally entitled rights. We won’t stand for service users and our members being pitted against each other as a defence for bad and, in this example, legally incorrect and poor working practices. Sadly, Solace has refused to agree to union recognition of UVW despite a majority of staff in support. This case has demonstrated that this union will always support our members in taking on the fight in the courtroom, in workplaces and on the picket line.”

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