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Quality Care through Quality Jobs: A social enterprise in homecare, owned by the workers

The idea to set up a worker-owned business that treats employees fairly is something that workers have been talking about for years in MRCI. Setting up a worker-owned business seems like a natural solution to workplace exploitation. So when the opportunity for funding came up via the European Social Funds Women’s Entrepreneurship measure, MRCI was not going to let it pass. We put in an ambitious application to set up a worker-owned social enterprise in homecare, led by migrant women employed in the sector. It would be a better business that could deliver better care and better jobs than other homecare companies. The application was successful and we are now deep into developing our new worker-owned business model.

MRCI has a long history working with domestic workers and carers through the Domestic Workers Action Group (DWAG) which was a hugely successful campaigning group for over 15 years. Today, the issues for domestic workers and carers have evolved, and we now have a new campaigning space in MRCI called My Fair Home – an amazing network of over 400 carers representing the voice of the many thousands of migrant carers in Ireland. We know too well that care work is not valued, terms and conditions of employment are poor, wages are low, and the work is demanding both physically and mentally. But at the same time care work is rewarding and fulfilling in the knowledge that good care provides people, living and dying, with dignity and respect and the freedom to live in the homes they love, in the communities they belong to. The population over 65 is growing rapidly in Ireland , and people want to age at home - this is central to the unprecedented demand for care in the home. Ireland will need migrant workers to meet labour market demand. We believe we should be at the fore of driving solutions in the homecare sector so that people have the right to quality services that support their dignity and that workers have decent employment to support their dignity.

In our social enterprise project we are working with a small group of committed carers. We know what good quality care looks like, we know all the problems migrants face in homecare and we are working to identify a new and innovative business model to deliver quality care through quality jobs. We spent much of 2018 thinking about what we could do better than our competitors, what we could do differently that would make clients want to choose us over well-known international homecare companies with huge profits to invest in marketing and sales. We asked the tough questions about how we could compete with these big industries.

Why are we better?

We quickly realised our strength. It is ‘us’: the carers. We are a carer-owned company. We are committed to care, committed to quality services, committed to doing better than anyone else. We partnered with the Ladder to help us navigate our journey and test out our ideas with real users. We set up an open day in Dalkey with our carers and invited the community in to meet with us and discuss their care needs. We realised they like our ideas. Users saw the value of a worker-owned social enterprise – they liked that we are not profit-driven like other companies, that we invest everything back into the workers, into their training and into the services. They understood that because we invest in workers, workers invest in the company and would be loyal which results in better care services and a consistency in caregivers, which users believe is crucial.

Next we tested it with workers at a care conference. Carers liked that workers have ownership of the company, and that they have a voice and a say in how it is run and in policies and procedures.

The worker-owned model is a pro-worker model. Carers are valued because we value care. Staff turnover, which is a major challenge in other care companies, is mitigated in this approach as this model invests in staff.

Working with the Ladder has been instrumental in helping us to progress the idea by validating it with users. We learned key skills that we can use again to test different aspects of the business. 2018 has been a discovery journey in finding out what people want from homecare. 2019 will be the next chapter: implementing our plan.

We look forward to bringing you on this journey with us over the next year and to having your support. Follow our journey here and on MRCI’s twitter and social media. If you have any questions about the project please email aoife@mrci.ie