Care Workers Are Suing A Care Provider In A Battle Over The National Minimum Wage

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The Law Of... fighting for the national minimum wage

In one of the biggest cases to hit the care homes sector, 17 care workers are suing their local council contractor, Sevacare, after being treated "like slaves" and paid less than half of the national minimum wage.

The Law Of... fighting for the national minimum wage

Workers for Sevacare in Haringey, London, were paid a measly rate of £3.27 – which is less than the current £7.20 national minimum wage – and some were even working 24 hours a day for several days at a time, as reported by the BBC.

As they were responsible for commissioning the care, Haringey Council is also being sued at an employment tribunal for failing to make sure that the workers were receiving the right pay.

Caring For The Nation?

Sevacare provides care and support to 9,600 people every week and has contracts for local authorities across England. This now excludes Haringey Council, which stated that it's no longer working with the care provider after it raised "serious concerns" with the Care Quality Commission.

Describing this as some of the worst breaches of pay they have ever seen, the workers' union, Unison, has revealed that the case will be examined by an employment tribunal.

They also added that the majority of female care workers in the group were getting £3.27 an hour whilst acting as 'live-in' care workers at the home of an elderly woman suffering from severe dementia.

Spending around 24 hours a day on duty, the carers told the BBC that they had to make sure that their patient's needs were met throughout the day and night, and even had to sleep in the same room as her.

Trapped On Duty

One of the workers went as far as comparing their experience to being kept caged inside "a prison", revealing that they weren't allowed to leave the house for the duration of their stay. To make the situation even worse, all of the care workers were on zero-hour contracts and feared the repercussions of refusing to work.

"Unfortunately, this sorry state of affairs is not unique to Haringey", Unison's general secretary commented. "Up and down the UK, the experience of other home care workers is similar." He added that whilst the workers were the victims of the government's 'penny-pinching approach', the companies employing them were reaping the profits of their labour.

Jennifer comments:

"It's disgraceful that these workers have been treated so badly. Working excessively long shifts for such little pay is not only physically and emotionally draining, but also demotivating. The vast majority of care workers do an amazing job in an environment many of us would feel most uncomfortable in. As a community, and also as a country, we should be supporting our care workers – this includes ensuring they are paid a fair wage."

"There's been an increasing strain on the care homes industry as the government has been making cuts to the amount of funding available for those living in care. More and more elderly and vulnerable individuals and their families are struggling to fund the cost of living in care, and it's incredibly frustrating for them and councils to discover that care providers are not fairly paying the staff whose job it is to care for their loved ones."

Missing Out On The Minimum Wage

Workers are also claiming that their pay fell below the minimum wage as Sevacare weren't covering the expenses they incurred whilst travelling to and from patients' homes. Haringey Council commented that they require providers to pay their workers the national minimum wage as well as covering any work-related travel expenses.

After seeing some of the workers' payslips, the BBC has reported that some workers in Haringey are still being paid well below the legal minimum wage. "Our rates allow for providers to pay both the national minimum wage and the national living wage" a spokesman for the council added. "We will be writing to them all to remind them of their Care Act obligations, stating clearly that no breaches will be tolerated."

Rejecting the workers' claims, Sevacare commented that its staff's working hours were covered by a 'daily average agreement', which paid them for 10 hours. They also stated that the workers received £550 for working a 7-day week – the equivalent of £7.85 an hour.

Deana comments:

"Employers need to understand that the national minimum wage has been put in place for a reason – workers need to be paid at least the legal requirement as a matter of survival; they have bills to pay and families to support."

"It's shocking that the care workers were being paid even less than what an apprentice would earn in 2016 – which is £3.30 an hour. Employers need to be more vigilant about making sure that workers are being paid what they are legally entitled to."

"As the national minimum wage increases once again on 1 October 2016, employers should carry out an internal pay audit to ensure employee’s wages do not fall below the national minimum wage. We offer practical advice on how to avoid being named and shamed in the media for breaching the national minimum wage, which incidentally could also result in a penalty higher than the cost of paying the correct rates of pay. If employers don't pay their staff the correct wages, they can risk reputational damage and a hefty fine for non-compliance. If employers need help with their existing pay policies or procedures it's always best to speak to a legal professional about how they can make sure they're complying with legal requirements."


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