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THOUSANDS of low-paid homecare workers are in line for a wages boost after a tribunal ruled that they are entitled to be paid for time spent travelling between home visits.
Public-service union Unison has fought a four-year legal battle against profiteering private care providers’ practice of paying workers only for the time they spend with their sick and elderly clients.
The practice, now ruled illegal by an employment tribunal, meant that many workers were not paid even the minimum wage.
Unison says that the 10 workers it represented should receive about £10,000 each in compensation from their employers — but the ruling should benefit tens of thousands of care workers nationwide.
The tribunal found that the grasping privateers commissioned by Haringey Council in north London had breached wage rules by paying some care staff less than half the minimum wage.
The companies involved in the Haringey case, Kaamil Education Ltd, Diligent Care Services Ltd and Premier Carewaiting Ltd, have been ordered to pay more than £100,000 in backdated earnings to the homecare staff.
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.
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.”
Unison produced a series of case studies to support its action.
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. She was not getting paid for time spent driving between appointments.
She 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.”
Unison 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 at the TUC conference.
In a joint statement, Kaamil Education, Diligent Care Services and Premier Carewaiting said:
“The main issue of non-payment of minimum wages in the case related to a period when the employees were not employed by Kaamil Education Limited, Diligent Care Services Limited and Premier Carewaiting Limited but by Sevacare, who previously provided services to the local authority.
“Kaamil Education, Diligent Care Services and Premier Carewaiting inherited liability for that previous contractor’s obligations — including payment-related obligations — by way of a Tupe [Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 ] transfer.”
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