Migrant women create Ireland’s first carers’ co-operative

Co-founder Maria Jikijela says the group will ‘reinvest all profits in the carers’

Maria Jikijela, co-founder and director of The Great Care Co-op. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Maria Jikijela, co-founder and director of The Great Care Co-op. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

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Ireland’s first carers’ co-operative, founded and led by migrant women, will provide “quality care and quality jobs” in a way profit-based agencies cannot, its founders claim.

The Great Care Co-op will “reinvest all profits in the carers . . . and the carers will lead it”, says co-founder Maria Jikijela (58). She came to Ireland from South Africa 14 years ago with three children. An electrical engineer in Capetown, she has worked as a carer since 2006 – with agencies until 2017 and employed by the HSE as a hospital carer since.

Though she speaks positively of some agencies, others put carers under time pressures that don’t allow them to spend “quality time” with clients, she says.

“You can be scheduled to start with one client at 8am for an hour, and you know the hour will not be enough if the client is bed-bound and needs to be rotated, then prepare breakfast, take her for a shower. Then the next client starts at 9. It might be far away in traffic and you’re late.

“You are rushing, you don’t have time to see what’s happening with your client, you cannot build a relationship. You are stressing. None of them is getting the quality time and care they need.”

There can be a lack of support from agencies, for instance when a carer needs another carer with them for clients with challenging needs and this is not provided. On top of all this, pay can be low and most agency-carers get no holidays, sick pay or access to company pension plans.

Ms Jikijela and other carers came together through the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI).

“We felt, when we talked about our work, we could change all those things. We decided on the Great Care Co-op to make a difference. It is led by migrant women, it is a worker-owned healthcare business.”

‘More time’

The co-op is a registered limited company with 12 women carers – from Uganda, Zimbabwe, the Philippines and South Africa. “We run it. We want more carers to join us.

“We will be able to give more time to clients and we will look after the carers better. They will have quality time with their clients and get more satisfaction from their work.”

She believes they will charge “a little less” than many agencies because “there will be no profits going to board members. They will be reinvested in the carers. They will have sick pay, holidays and pensions. We are sure the patients and the carers will benefit in this.”

Aoife Smith, social enterprise manager with the MRCI, describes the co-op as a “a political move in itself”, challenging the for-profit model of professional care.

“The pandemic has shone a light on carers. Carers were celebrated up and down the country for their essential work, invaluable contribution and selflessness. But at the same time too many are not paid or treated fairly. There is a lot of frustration amongst carers.”

The Great Care Co-op is operating in Dalkey, Co Dublin, so far. “As time goes on and the co-op gets stable it will expand everywhere in Ireland,” says Ms Jikijela. “That is what we are planning.”