Government urged to act after major minimum wage win by homecare workers, says UNISON

Legal win has implication for thousands of workers

The government must end the practice of employers denying care staff wages for time spent travelling between visits to the sick and elderly, says UNISON today (Tuesday).

It follows a ​recent significant legal victory by a group of homecare workers over illegal pay in a case brought by the union.

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, according to UNISON.

The union says a national care service would help prevent these illegal pay practices by ensuring workers were paid a fair wage.

The union has outlined this and other demands for urgent reform such as an end to zero-hours contracts ​in a motion to ​be debated today (Tuesday) at the 152nd annual Trades U​nion Congress​(TUC), which takes place online.

The ruling in the Haringey case follows a four-year battle by the ten employees ​– launched during the 2016 TUC – and highlights major failings in the care sector, ​says UNISON.

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 pa​y.

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, according to UNISON.

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, according to the union. 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.”

Notes to editors:
-*This is based on UNISON’s calculations: £10,000 divided by the national minimum wage rate (£7.20 in 2016) to give 1,389 hours which were then divided by the average ​working week (35 hours).
– The majority of the ten homecare staff are Black​, which means they​’re most at risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid-19 or even dying from the virus.
– UNISON’s ethical care charter guarantees hours for homecare workers, payment for travel time and hourly rates of at least the Living Wage Foundation’s living wage of £9.30 an hour and £10.75 in the capital.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.
– The TUC’s 152nd annual Congress takes place on Monday 14 and Tuesday 15 September. For full details of the programme, how to watch debates and how to participate in digital fringe meetings, click here.
Case studies:
-Louise Jones (not her real name) was travelling between up to 15 clients in a day that could start at 7am and end at 9pm. However, the homecare worker 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 Williams (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.”

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