by TOM JOHNSON Care home workers at Barnet's residential homes face significant cuts iin a move MPs have labelled an appalling attack on already low paid workers.' The care home system also faces losing experienced staff members as The Fremantle Trust, a not-for-profit organisation that manages provision on behalf of Barnet council, looks to cut its costs.

Shortly before Christmas last year, all staff at The Fremantle Trust's homes in Barnet received a letter informing them that they had to resign and reapply for their jobs or face redundancy.

Their new contracts included a pay freeze for the next three years, the loss of overtime pay and reduced their sick leave from six months on full pay to 20 days.

Sandra Jones, a day care worker at the Rosa Freedman Centre in Claremont Way, Cricklewood, said: "We had no choice. We either had to take the proposed change in terms and conditions or lose our jobs."

A duty officer at another home, who did not want to be named, said: "Because of the loss of sick pay, a lot of people are going to have to go in to work ill. Residents could pick something up and we are talking about vulnerable, old people. They could die."

A Fremantle spokeswoman said: "It is one of those situations where there is no easy solution. The project has been running at a significant loss and we have been looking at a lot of ways to reduce our operating costs. This is one of the ways we need to do that.

"I'm aware that staff are very unhappy, but they understand the need to balance the needs of business with their own needs, and I believe that that is why almost all of them have signed the new contracts."

Andrew Rogers, a care worker at the Apthorp Lodge and Day Centre in Nurserymans Road, New Southgate, disagreed, saying: "Fremantle have been bullying us. The elderly are at the bottom of the ladder in our society, particularly in this borough.

"If the care homes lose staff like us they lose staff who have known the residents for years, who understand their social, personal and physical needs.

"Staff coming in on short-term contracts without the experience will have a detrimental effect on the care of the elderly."

A spokeswoman for the union Unison said: "We took a vote concerning strike action. We had a 100 per cent return on the ballot supporting the strike, but we have had to postpone the strike action due to a legal challenge by Fremantle."

The issue has found support in Parliament, with 21 MPs signing an Early Day Motion on March 19 backing the campaign being waged by both the GMB and Unison unions.