If plumbers and electricians get paid for travel time between jobs, then so should people who make daily calls on the elderly, a Wellington home support worker says.
Tamara Baddeley, who is taking a test case claim on behalf of hundreds of other home-care workers, said she was paid $14.80 an hour for home visits, during which she helps to shower, dress and feed elderly people, and check they have taken their medication.
Yesterday, her round involved 12 calls around the city, driving from home to home in her ageing Hyundai - for which she gets an allowance of 33 cents a kilometre - but there is no payment for the hours she spends on the road.
"Lots of other people get paid for travel time," said Ms Baddeley, of Strathmore. "Plumbers, builders, electricians charge travel time and people don't quibble with that."
Her argument is being put up in a Service and Food Workers Union test case filed with the Employment Relations Authority. It is asking the authority to refer the matter to the Employment Court.
Union secretary John Ryall described the situation as a serious injustice that had to be remedied.
Ms Baddeley was employed by Presbyterian Support, but the union action was directed as much at district health boards as it was with agencies employing the home support workers, he said.
"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.
"Tamara, and thousands of other home support workers, get paid for the time they spend at a client's house, but not all the time they spend driving from client to client.
"They are paid an allowance for mileage, but nothing for the considerable time spent travelling.
"This is a serious injustice for workers doing an important and challenging job and who are already very low paid."
A legal opinion obtained by Judy McGregor, the Human Rights Commission's equal employment opportunities commissioner, concluded there was a good argument the travel time between clients constituted work under the Minimum Wage Act, and that a test case would have a reasonable chance of success.
Presbyterian Support Wellington chief executive Chris Graham had not studied the claim and had no comment.
However, Home Help Association chief executive Julie Haggie said there needed to be more consistency on the issue of travel time for the country's 21,000 support workers.
ACC reimbursed them at half the minimum wage rate, but health boards and the Health Ministry made payments only in exceptional situations.
She said the workers played an important role in keeping people in their own homes, but it was low-paid work and staff turnover was high, so fairness in their pay was vital.
Service providers needed a funding framework that offered "the flexibility to recruit, retain, and make best use of their workforce, and this includes a feasible, fair and consistent approach to travel costs", she said.
Health Minister Tony Ryall said yesterday the case was a "matter between home care employers and home care employees".
"We are aware different employers have different approaches, and we will be watching how the case progresses."
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