Shepway care workers paid less than minimum wage.

Peter & Jane (not their real names) are care workers in Shepway who like many, many others across the district who work in the social care industry face many obstacles when trying to get a fair deal on pay.

When ‘Peter & Jane’ worked providing support, care and assistance to elderly people in their homes across Shepway, their employment contracts said they would be paid £7.80 an hour. They’ve since left the company, fed up of feeling exploited by a firm trying to cash in on this vital, hard, stressful work.

One of the reasons they felt hard done by was that they were not even being paid the rate the company had promised. In practice they’re pretty sure they were  getting less than the minimum wage, then £6.70 an hour.

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The thorny question for ‘Peter & Jane and hundreds of other care workers across Shepway is whether they are being paid for the time it takes them to travel between care appointments. This should be standard practice: an office worker doesn’t get paid going from home to the office, but would expect to be paid for the time spent travelling from the office to meet a client in the middle of the day.

‘Peter & Jane’s’ payslips told them how much they were paid for the hours they spent with ‘clients’. But they didn’t show how much time they spent travelling between appointments. Or whether they were paid for that. So they knew what they were getting in total every two weeks but not how many hours they were being paid for. And as a result they didn’t know their hourly rate. They told Shepwayvox:

‘“We don’t think it is fair that our payslips don’t say what we are actually being paid for. If we worked at Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s or Tesco’s we would be paid an hourly rate. That doesn’t happen for us’

Around 220,000 care workers are reckoned to be paid below the legal minimum wage. Investigations of care providers between 2011 and 2015 by the regulator HMRC found that 41% were guilty of not paying the minimum wage to people like Peter & Jane.

However, many of the larger care companies – including Allied Healthcare, Care UK and MiHomecare  who operate across Shepway and elsewhere – have faced increasing negative publicity for inadequately paying their workers. Increasingly care workers, such as Peter & Jane are taking legal action themselves. Sevacare, the fourth biggest care company, was taken to court last month for paying workers less than the minimum wage, in part due to not paying travel time.

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In response to increased public scrutiny, some companies have started paying for some travel time,but not as much as they should. Peter & Jane’s former company who operate in Shepway have not.  MiHomecare, for example, has increased its pay rates, stung by negative publicity and being taken to court by one of its workers. The higher rates mean it is no longer paying workers below the minimum wage – but it is still not directly paying its workers for their travel time. They are being paid for their care hours at a rate that, when the travel time is included, keeps them just above the minimum wage.

When we spoke to Peter & Jane’s former company, they said:

‘If we were to pay for travel time, we’d have to reduce the number of workers and then we would not be able to provide care to the elderly and fulfil all our contracts.’

We think this is a poor excuse and demonstrates that they didn’t consider this travel time as a factor in their business model.

So to give you an example, if someone on £8 an hour spends 35 hours caring for people in their homes, they will be paid £280. But add the ten hours they spent travelling between calls that week and that £280 is actually paying for 45 hours of work, which means they are being paid an effective rate of just £6.22 an hour.

This lets the company off the hook with HMRC – which only gets involved when minimum wage legislation has been breached – but renders meaningless the rate care workers are told they will get when they join the company.

Another care worker working in the social care industry in Shepway told Shepwayvox they had contacted HMRC for assistance but had been told the regulator only intervened in cases where minimum wage law had been breached.

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If workers like Peter & Jane can find a solicitor they may be entitled take their employer to court for not paying the contractual rate. But employment tribunal fees and a lack of solicitors willing to take such a cases on make this option beyond the reach of many.

To further confuse things, what constitutes travel time means different things to different people. Some companies only count time spent on the road when calculating travel hours.

But this was not the interpretation used in the judgement from the 2013 court case that created the precedent for travel time claims, known as Whittlestone vs BJP, in which a care worker successfully took action against her employer for not paying her for travel time, among other things.

Judge Langstaff, then head of the Employment Appeals Tribunal, said time between visits on a care worker’s rota should be paid, unless “the Claimant might have had so long between the end of one assignment and the next as to return home”.

As such, when a worker’s like Peter & Jane has a short gap between appointments, they should be paid for the full gap, not just the actual amount of time spent travelling. For example, if there is a 15 minute gap between appointments but it only takes five minutes to travel between them, care workers should still be paid for the full 15 minutes as they do not have time to go home or do anything else ‘for themselves’ in between.

This could have a significant effect on the pay of workers here in Shepway & beyond, especially those in urban areas where actual travel distances are short. If you have a ten minute gap between appointments on the same street, there’s not much you can do inbetween other than wait. But if you have a few calls like this a day, and those nine minutes spent hanging around are never included, the money lost will soon add up.

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Having to constantly second guess your employer like Peter & Jane did and calculate their actual pay rate was time-consuming – and exactly what care workers here in Shepway and elsewhere don’t need after a physically and emotionally tiring day. This is just one example of how home care companies, with the tacit support of central government and the local councils who commission these firms, have taken advantage of lax regulation to keep their staff costs down.

Shepwayvox

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