Home support workers are on the front line, so why haven’t they been paid?

Despite guaranteed government funding and subsidy schemes such as essential service leave, the largest employers in New Zealand’s home support sector have this week either not paid or vastly underpaid many home support workers, or forced them into taking annual leave.

The Public Service Association and E tū both represent home support workers, and the unions say the failure to pay essential workers is tantamount to wage theft and subsidy theft from the government, and is an illegal breach of staff Collective Employment Agreements.

"These breaches come at a time when support workers continue to risk their own wellbeing, often without adequate PPE, and go out day after day into the homes of New Zealand’s most vulnerable people", says E tū Organising Director Kirsty McCully.

"Support workers are lifelines to our elderly people, those with disabilities or long term conditions. Despite weeks of government promises they still do not have reliable access to PPE, and on top of all that they now wake up to empty bank accounts. When will it end?"

The unions stand together and call on employers in the sector to urgently fix the situation and pay workers what they are owed.

"We are beyond disappointed to see employers breach their agreements with our members, forcing them into financial hardship at the worst possible time. While so many of us stay home over the long weekend, these workers will go from house to house putting themselves at risk to help others," says PSA Assistant National Secretary Melissa Woolley.

"Home support workers may only be guaranteed five hours a week, but routinely work forty or more. Some have now been sent home because of compromised immune systems, and are only being paid for their few guaranteed hours instead of the full time hours they normally work."

The issue will be raised directly and firmly with all employers and relevant government agencies.

"Support workers have already used up every piece of goodwill they have left convincing themselves to continue to come to work in situations where they don’t have adequate PPE to protect themselves and their clients", says Kirsty McCully.

"Today alone I've had 20 support workers come to me and say this is the final straw and they're quitting the sector for good. They feel disrespected and used. It’s not good enough for those in caring professions to have their dedication to client care taken advantage of."

The unions encourage workers to stand up to mistreatment and take whatever steps are necessary to protect their safety.

"Support workers have had enough. In recent years we have won equal pay settlements and guaranteed hours, but at every turn those higher up the chain try to undermine these advances and give workers less than they deserve," says Melissa Woolley.

"Our members just want to look after those in need in a safe environment and get paid for their work. We have advised our members to defer unsafe work until their employers provide adequate PPE. It’s up to employers and government to make this right."