UNISON has called on the government to end the practice of employers denying care staff wages for time spent travelling between visits to the sick and elderly.
It follows a recent significant legal victory by a group of homecare workers over illegal pay in a case brought by UNISON.
The claimants (the majority of whom are women) will now receive an average settlement of around £10,000 each after an employment tribunal ruling.
The tribunal found that contractors commissioned by Haringey Council in North London breached wage rules by paying some care staff less than half the minimum wage.
The decision involving these ten workers has implications for thousands more care staff across the UK who look after vulnerable people by visiting them in their own homes.
Those denied their full wages could now bring cases against their care employers to reclaim what they are owed.
We believe that a national care service would help prevent these illegal pay practices by ensuring workers were paid a fair wage.
The ruling in the Haringey case follows a four-year battle by the ten employees and highlights major failings in the care sector.
The care companies involved in the Haringey case (Kaamil Education Limited, Diligent Care Services Limited, and Premier Carewaiting Limited) have been ordered to pay more than £100,000 in backdated earnings to the homecare staff.
The average settlement for each claimant is around £10,000 – the equivalent of nine month’s work and annual leave that their employers had failed to pay.
The dispute against the three care firms was chiefly over their failure to pay workers a legal wage. Time spent travelling between people’s houses was unpaid, despite the staff having to get from one home to the next to complete their work.
This meant that the workers could earn well under half the legal minimum hourly rate, despite working for as many as 14 hours a day.
The judgment said that travelling and waiting time of up to 60 minutes between appointments should be treated as working time. This will now provide other homecare staff with a clear method of calculating how much they are owed, says UNISON.
The fact that the compensation details involving the 10 workers are public – and not subject to a confidentiality clause – is also significant. Other homecare workers on similar pay rates will now feel empowered to challenge any employers who fail to pay them correctly.
Commenting on the case and the need for wider reform of the care sector, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This is a major victory for these dedicated workers who dared take on their employers. Their long struggle is nothing short of heroic.
“It’s time the skills and experience of care staff were respected instead of them being underpaid and undervalued. The pandemic has proven just how vital they are in looking after the most vulnerable in society and keeping the care system running.
“These are the very same care staff who were applauded during the lockdown. They shouldn’t have to work in a system that breeds such awful treatment.
“This ruling sends a message to other care bosses that it’s completely unacceptable to pay staff illegal poverty wages. The government too must get tougher with employers so there’s an end to these law-breaking practices.”
Louise (not her real name) was travelling between up to 15 clients in a day that could start at 7am and end at 9pm. However, she was not getting paid for her time spent driving between appointments. Louise said: “It’s been a long fight but it’s great the case has come good in the end. My hope is the decision will help other homecare workers receive the same justice. I love my work – I like to help people and see them happy, especially those who are vulnerable. I worked every day through the pandemic which wasn’t easy, but it’s a vital job.”
Jess (not her real name) also works long days and has to travel by bus or walk to see the people she looks after. Jess said: “People think the job just involves giving out tablets or a cup of tea. But you have to be a doctor, nurse, and social worker. It’s a huge responsibility – you could be looking after someone in pain or distress. Care workers aren’t valued. We’ve been treated like we were nobody. That’s why this result is so important, not just for us but others like us. It’s been daunting bringing this case. But I believe in justice and we supported one another to the end.”