Care workers have been warned by a trade union not to use a government app meant to help them during the coronavirus pandemic because it allows their managers to identify staff who have complained about pay, testing and personal protective equipment.

Matt Hancock launched a mobile app last week for 1.5 million people in the adult social care workforce which was supposed to distribute policy updates and infection control advice through smart phones.

The Care Workforce App promised to help “care workers get access to guidance, learning resources, discounts and other support all in one place.”

But the GMB union has advised members to avoid using the app because it has a webchat function which is insecure, and it gives managers access to what are presumed to be private messages.

Documents seen by the Guardian include a claim by one named care worker that an employer had failed to pay the minimum wage.

“Was paid yesterday and noticed my wages didn’t go up to the minimum wage on April 1st, I think it’s a disgrace, we’re all working so hard and risking ourselves and our families’ lives coming in contact with the virus and now I’m being underpaid!”

Another complained of a lack of PPE, saying it was “wrong that you only get £95 for sick pay when you get infected”.

And a third, who was identifiable by their name, said: “It is ridiculous that staff have to sort out testing ourselves. Our employers should sort it out.”

Rehana Azam, GMB’s national secretary, said the app has already exposed many care workers to the possibility of sanctions and urged them not to use it.

“Exposing users’ personal details on this app in this way is grossly incompetent at best – but we say it’s a downright betrayal of key workers whichever way you look at it,” she said.

“Health and care workers are terrified of speaking out about the dangerous lack of PPE in case they get reprimanded or sacked by their employer for raising the issue. “Now the government launches an app that slaps their private data all over the place for anyone to see. Bosses can quite easily use it to spy on workers, see what they’re saying and potentially sanction them.”

Azam said Hancock was to blame for the “disaster”.

At the app’s launch in March, the health and social care secretary called on all care workers to download the app.

“We have launched a new app specifically for care workers to make sure they have the most up-to-date guidance to keep them safe, connected with their colleagues across the country, which also allows them to access discounts like their NHS counterparts.

“It’s available to download right now, and I would urge everyone in social care to do so,” he said.

To register, workers must provide their name, email, region and postcode of their employer. Optional additional information includes the name of a worker’s employer.

According to the union, the app’s webchat function can be searched and discloses personal information about carers.

On registering, users are sent an email directly projecting web chat comments by other users, which may be sensitive or revealing, including information about whether carers have been tested for Covid-19.

Hancock’s office has been approached for comment.

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