Worker clocks up 160km to go to jobs

LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 05:00 28/11/2012
Home support worker Trudie Featonby
ROBERT CHARLES/Fairfax NZ
UNDER-VALUED: Home support worker Trudie Featonby is not paid for the time she spends on the road between clients. Her union is arguing in the courts that the lack of compensation is illegal.

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Taranaki home support worker Trudie Featonby is one of thousands across New Zealand being ripped off, their union says.

In the last two weeks Featonby, of Waitara, travelled 160km as she drove between each of her clients' homes between Bell Block and Waitara in order to care for them.

While she gets a set rate of 33c per kilometre for using her own car, she is not paid for the time she spends on the road.

"We believe it is illegal for organisations employing home support workers not to pay them at least the minimum wage for the time they spend travelling between clients," the Service and Food Workers Union national secretary John Ryall said.

"This is serious injustice for workers doing an important and challenging job and who are already very low-paid."

As a result, the union - buoyed by winning the landmark decision to improve payment to disability support workers for sleepovers - has initiated another legal wrangle aimed at getting home care workers paid travel time.

On Friday, the union filed a test case in the name of Wellington member Tamara Baddeley with the Employment Relations Authority.

"We believe that a serious injustice has existed for a long time and it must be remedied," Ryall said.

Featonby said because of her qualifications she was paid more than the minimum wage but felt for her co-workers who were struggling.

"Some of the workers are on the basic wage and finding it very hard to cope, especially when they are having gaps in between clients.

"We spend a great deal of time travelling."

She sees a diverse age range of people needing care, including the elderly, those in wheelchairs and ACC clients. The work involves personal care, such as showering and meal preparation.

The government was under-funding service providers, she said.

"It's an under-valued job. We are helping people stay in their homes and helping them keep their dignity and independence.

"For a lot of people we're the only daily contact they have in a day. We have a big effect on people. That's why we do this job - certainly not because of the pay," Ms Featonby said.

SWU Taranaki organiser Sam Jones says Taranaki home support workers are among the worst paid in New Zealand.

They are about to have their latest wages ratified from between the minimum wage of $13.50 and up to $15.22 with service and qualifications.

Jones said if these same workers were employed within the District Health Board they would be paid between $17 and $20 an hour.

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The union has asked the Employment Relations Authority to send the test case to the Employment Court.

The Human Rights Commission Equal Opportunity Commissioner, Judy McGregor, had backed the claim and the commission has sought a legal opinion from Wellington law firm Russell McVeagh, Ryall said.

The law firm concluded that there was a good argument that the travel time constitutes work under the Minimum Wage Act and a test case would have a reasonable change of success, Ryall said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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