SERVICES to adults with learning difficulties are under threat in a looming dispute over pay cuts to staff who work sleep-in shifts.

The so-called “top-up” payments are made to staff who work the shifts to ensure their average hourly pay reaches the national minimum wage rate, says their union, Unison.

The payments are worth £30 to £40 per shift and make up a significant portion of support workers’ incomes, according to Unison.

Two care providers which hold contracts across the North West. Alternative Futures Group, which operates in Oldham, Tameside, Bury and Bolton intends to stop paying the top-ups in January.

Lifeways, which runs facilities in Bolton and Lancashire, has announced it will stop paying them with immediate effect.

Unison’s North West regional organiser Tim Ellis said: “This is a mean-spirited attack on the incomes of low-wage workers who are performing valuable work.

“Alternative Futures and Lifeways are acting hastily and opportunistically. They are still getting the same level of funding from councils so their raid on workers’ incomes is wholly unnecessary. “Staff feel very strongly that this attack on them is unfair. Alternative Futures and Lifeways should listen to their staff and restore the sleep-in top-up payments immediately. “Councils who commission services from these two providers should be insisting that they do not make these brutal cuts to the incomes of public service workers who are already on poverty pay.”

An AFG spokesman said: "In July the Court of Appeal reached a very clear decision that it is only time spent awake and working during a sleep-in that counts as working time for national minimum wage purposes.

"This means that AFG is no longer legally obliged to pay top up payments in the way we currently do. However, we will continue to pay a flat-rate sleep-in allowance.

"AFG has acted as a responsible employer throughout. It has kept employees informed about the legal situation and its implications for pay in an open and transparent manner - allowing employees to plan ahead. AFG has also continued to make payments in good faith since the July court ruling. We are acting lawfully in line with current legislation.

"In light of the change in legislation for sleeps-ins, it is highly likely that our commissioners will stop paying AFG a rate which would allow us to continue to make top up payments. Therefore, AFG regrettably has had to write to employees to advise them that from January 1, 2019 we will no longer pay top up payments for sleep in hours - unless we secure sufficient funding to continue making the payments.

"As we state in our letter to employees, we will continue to negotiate with commissioners to seek the best possible rates to protect the pay of front line workers."