Thursday, 26 June 2008

Left to Care for Themselves

Mae Almonicar - Nurse, Hamilton.
Copyright David Foster 2008

If you spoke to Mae on the phone then you’d simply assume she was Scottish. Her vowels are rounded with the familiar warm tonality. She’s actually Filipino, and arrived in Scotland for the first time in 2001 to work as a Senior Carer in private nursing homes where she has worked first in the Highlands and later just outside Glasgow. It takes listening, practise and patience to adopt a foreign accent. It’s a signal of her deep seated desire to really integrate with the surrounding culture.

Yet her experiences in the UK illustrate the vulnerability of an overseas worker: ‘When I went to sleep I had nightmares. I was a mess wasn’t I?’ She says to Shelly, her Scottish friend who has accompanied her. ‘Crying all the time. Just the thought of losing my nursing registration, losing my job. 2007 was the worst, worst year of my life.’

Mae moved from a staff nurse position in the Philippines and arrived in Scotland for the first time in 2001 to work in as Senior Carer in private nursing homes, an occupation that was, until 2006, on the government list of occupations suffering a labour shortage.

Like so many of the 80,000 Filipino nurses and health staff working in the UK. Mae initially arrived in the UK, hoping to find economic and social security in her new role.

‘I worked in this nursing home in Hamilton for over two years, everything was fine until at one point summer last year there were three new staff who, how do you say it, made stories about me, about things I haven’t done.’

On her morning off, after working six night shifts in a row as senior sister Mae was called in to defend herself in front of management at her care home.

‘There was a major complaint against me. And it was about abuse. They accused me of twisting this man’s hand on a regular, regular basis. This man is a very physically aggressive man but he never had any bruises. It took two or three staff just to get him ready for bed, just to put on his pyjamas, you know and seemingly it was me who abusing this man. There was no report of any injury but the management threatened me saying that it was a police matter. I never got any support from them, I was guilty in their eyes.’

Despite Mae having permanent residency and over 5 years UK work experience, on the basis of these accusations Mae received a letter of dismissal, was threatened with the loss her UK nursing registration for gross misconduct and was told she would not be paid. At no point was she advised that she needed representation or told about the procedure for appeal. It was only as a result of her membership to the trade union Unison and a independently organised off-shoot group, the Overseas Nurses Network that she was able to get advice and backing to fight her case.

A clear picture of the prejudice surrounding Mae’s dismissal is given by the surrounding events. Mae tells me ‘During the accusation another staff member from the nursing home phoned me… It went through my voicemail… racist remarks. My managers said she couldn’t help me so we went to the Police with the concrete evidence that it was all about racism.’ It was only at this point that the nursing home reluctantly started to pay Mae again. Mae tells me that the man in question was taken to court and found guilty of racial aggravation. He was sentenced to a fine of £400 by Hamilton Sheriff Court.

‘They offered me the job back. I said ‘I’m sorry I don’t want the job back.’ When I applied for another agency my manager gave me a bad reference. So how am I gonna start work?’ With her nursing registration and a leave to remain Mae has all the necessary requirements to work in an NHS position. Mae clearly is the type of person whose determination is only magnified by the tribulations she has faced.

From the article 'Left to care for themselves' Published in Bad Idea Magazine Summer 2008

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