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Union Brings Minimum Wage Case to Court

15 September 2016 | Updated 01 January 1970

Seventeen home care workers employed across the London Borough of Haringey, backed by the UNISON union, are taking care company Sevacare and the council to court amid claims of failure to pay minimum wage.

The group – all but one of whom are women – who care for elderly and disabled residents across the borough – are employed on zero-hours contracts. The women visit people in their own homes and in some cases provide 24-hour live-in care.

The UNISON case – the biggest the union has ever taken involving home care workers – is against Sevacare, which until July was one of the companies commissioned by the north London council to deliver care.

The case against the two organisations – and a number of care companies who took over the contract abandoned by Sevacare – is chiefly over the failure to pay staff a legal wage, as time spent travelling between people’s houses was unpaid.

This can mean, says UNISON, that on a typical day the women might be working away from home for as many as 14 hours but could receive payment for only half of them. This can leave them earning as little as £3.85 an hour. (The national living wage – the legal minimum for workers aged 25 and over – is currently £7.20 an hour.) Care workers who provide live-in care can earn even less, claims UNISON.

One of the women involved in the UNISON case compared her live-in weeks to being in prison because during this time she is not allowed to leave the house of the person for whom she cares.

UNISON Ggeneral Secretary Dave Prentis said: “Without the dedication of these committed and caring women and thousands of others like them across the UK, our care system would collapse.

“Meanwhile companies are coining it in. Last year Sevacare’s profits were over £1m. The experience of other home care workers is depressingly similar."

Until July Sevacare was one of the biggest providers of adult social care in Haringey. A Channel 4 Dispatches programme in April had previously raised serious concerns about Sevacare’s employment practices.

Evidence suggests that national minimum/national living wage non-compliance is endemic in the social care sector. A 2014 National Audit Office report suggested that as many as 220,000 homecare workers may be being paid an illegal wage.

Nineteen local authorities – including Islington, Southwark, Camden, Greenwich and Tower Hamlets – have now signed up to UNISON’s ethical care charter. This guarantees hours for homecare workers, payment for travel time and hourly rates of at least the Living Wage Foundation’s living wage of £8.25 an hour and £9.40 in the capital.

Earlier this year Sevacare was forced to settle a claim with Judith Montgomery, a former homecare worker from Bury. It had to pay her £3,250 following an employment tribunal claim that non-payment of travel time led her hourly pay to fall below the legal minimum.

At time of publishing the Sevacare (UK) Limited website was not functioning.

Results from Care Quality Commission audits show that while Sevacare was performing so badly in Haringey that it was removed in April of this year, two recent audits in Nottingham and Bolton show the company performing at an above satisfactory level.

Picture: Carers get a bad deal says UNISON

Article written by Cathryn Ellis | Published 15 September 2016


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