Agency staff from south have been called in for the first time to address staffing problems in Shetland care homes.
Unison branch secretary Tracey Leith raised concerns after she was told last week that two agency workers had been taken on in a care home, prior to consultations with unions and a meeting with councillors.
Concerns have also been raised about the extra cost of agency workers.
Ms Leith said she did not have information about the number of carers and where they would be based.
Earlier this week community health and social care director Simon Bokor-Ingram said there were some hard gaps to fill in the service, and they had reached a point where agency staff needed to be used.
When agency staff were needed they were needed quickly, he said. They were also looking to recruit staff as well as looking at how to retain existing workers.
Mr Bokor-Ingram said unions had been informed but there was no obligation to consult, as this would mean agency staff could not be brought in as quickly as they needed to be. Agency staff were needed now, he said.
Yesterday the matter was discussed in private at a meeting of the Shetland Islands Council’s social services committee.
Ms Leith said some care home staff had received a redundancy package and have been re-employed by the council.
Previously as part of a review programme, carers were paid redundancy packages or early retirement payments because of budget cuts.
In the 2013/14 financial year, 74 people left under early retirement and voluntary redundancy from community care.
Of those, 15 people had been given “relief” contracts – like a zero-hours contract, making them effectively temporary workers.
More care staff have left since the review of the service. Mr Bokor-Ingram said this was because of a variety of reasons including Shetland’s buoyant economy.
Ms Leith said they could have approached the review differently and listened more to staff. Staff working now were overworked, she said.
She said: “There were plenty of staff meetings and there were plenty of staff that voiced their concerns and were told they were being listened to, but weren’t ultimately.
“When the review was complete and those [that] wanted to go went, those that got left behind, a lot of them felt that because they hadn’t been listened to, it wasn’t a service they wanted to work in anymore.”
Ms Leith said she didn’t agree staff had left because of a buoyant economy; rather they were disaffected, unlistened to and overworked.
She said there was not a massive uptake in exit interviews from staff and said those who did take the opportunity to voice concerns have never had any feedback from the interviews.
She added that staff had been put through SVQ qualifications “and now a lot of them have gone”.
Ms Leith agreed that if the whole situation was approached better then the need to look south for staff could be avoided.
She said the council needed to sit down with workers and listen to them to ensure nobody else leaves the service.
Mr Bokor-Ingram said they needed to make sure existing staff were well supported, and speak to unions about what they were hearing from staff.
He said agency staff were there for the short-term while the service continued to recruit.
SIC social service committee chairman Cecil Smith confirmed it was a handful of agency workers who had been recruited.
When asked if this would cost the council more money for agency staff, Mr Smith said it was a contractual issue and he could not discuss that.
“We have been trying to recruit people for a while and we’re having difficulty like everybody else in Shetland,” he said.
Mr Smith said he had been away on holiday but was contacted by Mr Bokor-Ingram who said he was going to have to make the decision to bring in extra staff.
“He had to make a quick decision because it was going to have an effect on our clients,” he said.
“I think I need to sit down with everybody who is involved in this,” added Mr Smith, who said now he had returned from annual leave, he would look into the matter further.