NHS test-and-trace employees are billed more than double their salary | Coronavirus

Workers on the NHS test and trace operation who are paid £ 9.50 an hour were billed to government supplier Serco at £ 21.50 an hour, the Guardian understands.

The tariff was charged by Sensée, a London-based call center company, for workers tasked with calling contacts of people who test positive for Covid-19, a source said. Neither Serco nor Sensée disputed the figures.

The revelation raised further concerns about the value for money offered by the test and trace system. Led by conservative peer Dido Harding, it has already been scrutinized for its effectiveness, although the proportion of contacts reached by private sector contact tracers has improved since earlier in the pandemic when it was lagging behind public sector tracers.

Tim Sharp, TUC Senior Employment Rights Policy Officer, said: “This rate seems excessive and appears to go beyond the already inflated commission rates that are commonplace in the industry.

“Instead of just profiting from the hard work of agency workers, recruitment agencies should treat their workers fairly and pay them well. Too many agency workers face unpredictable hours, limited rights and low pay. “

Serco was limited to earning a margin of 4% on top of the costs of its testing and testing work, but its suppliers were not subject to the same obligation. Sensée did not say how much profit he made on the contract.

The full testing and traceability system is expected to cost £ 37bn over two years, or nearly £ 550 for every person in the UK, but the government and its private providers have provided few details on how the money has been spent. The £ 1.3bn budget for contact tracing included contracts worth £ 720m for 2020-2021, split between Serco, a member of the FTSE 250 index, and Sitel, a company French call centers.

Serco hired up to 24 employment agencies to find workers for its contact tracing system in the race to find the 18,000 workers the government needed. The Guardian previously revealed that Serco’s supply chain – not counting Sensée – uses companies that experts say could defraud the Treasury through a notorious tax system. Sources unrelated to Sensée in other parts of the contact tracing system reported spending days waiting to make calls.

Sensée said its rates were standard in the call center industry. Sensée and Serco pointed out that the headline rate also covers the cost of technology, management, vacation, sickness, compulsory pensions and national insurance payments.

The costs of hiring temporary workers through agencies can vary widely, and the pandemic may have increased costs by making recruiting more difficult. However, Sense’s website also touts the ‘cost reduction’ potential for its model – which pre-dated the pandemic – of employing home call center workers, eliminating office expenses and potentially enabling recruiting. of workers from anywhere with an Internet connection. The software used by the contact tracers was centrally managed by Sitel and Public Health England.

RingCentral, a provider of calling technology, in October mentionned that many large call center providers were charging their customers rates below £ 20 per hour for each worker.

A spokesperson for Serco said, “Our contractors providing contact center services will have to bear a number of costs in addition to the salaries paid to call managers.”

Mark Walton, Managing Director of Sensée, said: “Our rates for outsourced work are competitive in the contact center industry. If an employer employed contact center advisers on their own, they would incur a wide range of other costs in addition to wages. “

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Affairs said the testing and traceability “had a dramatic impact in reducing the spread of the virus,” a view at odds with the government’s scientific advisory body, Sage, who concluded that it had only a “marginal impact on transmission”.

The government spokesperson said: “The use of third-party vendors has allowed us to respond quickly to the pandemic, especially during the peak winter. Trace managers and clinical workers for all of our partners are paid at industry standard rates to ensure all staff are fairly compensated for their life-saving work. “

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