Two unions represent these workers, the Public Service Association and E tū. Alongside Grey Power, they are calling for urgent government action to fix the broken sector. On the evening of Wednesday 14 April, support workers will gather at Parliament to discuss their plight with Ministers and MPs.
Despite years of promises and major reforms with various degrees of implementation, a landmark new study by AUT Business School confirms home support workers remain at the bottom of the heap in New Zealand’s public health system. They’re burned out, they don’t feel listened to, and they’re sick of it.
The current chaotic mess of competing provider companies, with fragmented funding from ACC, DHBs and the Ministry of Health, must be comprehensively overhauled and replaced with a nationally consistent funding framework that guarantees secure hours, breaks, paid travel time and safe workloads.
E tū delegate Jenny Stewart, who has been a homecare support worker for 14 years, says she feels the sector is "in crisis."
"We are feeling very worn out and stressed a lot of the time. We feel that we don’t matter to anyone [higher up]," she says.
"We’re going out in our own vehicles, unseen - an invisible workforce. Home-based support is a vital service, but it relies on a workforce that doesn’t have proper job security."
Despite milestones like the Equal Pay Settlement, guaranteed hours, and an in-between travel time payment, Jenny says few hours are actually guaranteed. Hours may not be not replaced if clients die or go into care, and insufficient travel reimbursement means insecure, low incomes. Many leave the sector for "more hours and more money", she says.
Workers use their own cars, own mobile phones, and frequently work without breaks. Time allotted for client care is also being cut, Jenny says.
"We are subsidising the whole sector. The Government needs to look at the issue with eyes wide open. The demand for home-based support is going to grow and it needs to be sustainable."
PSA delegate Donna Wealleans has worked in the industry for a decade, and she is tired of seeing improvements undermined in practice by systemic failures.
"Guaranteed hours haven’t worked out for a lot of support workers. Some of us can’t take time off, while others still can’t get the hours we need," she says.
Donna worries high turnover and deep levels of stress among her colleagues have created a "ticking time bomb", which will ultimately put the clients they care for at risk.
"New Zealand can’t afford this to continue when we have an ageing population and a lot more people will need support."
"It doesn’t need to be this way, it shouldn’t be this way, but the system has not been properly organised and funded by the Government. That’s where the buck stops."
Grey Power National President Jan Pentecost says client care is being sacrificed under the current model.
"The quality of care clients receive is dependent on the employment model for our carers, and carers cannot keep battling to survive in a sector which treats them, and their work, as expendable," she says.
"Grey Power wants a home support system which allows people to stay healthy and safe at home, and ensures providers have sufficient numbers of fully trained staff, and relief staff, to meet their contracted case load at all times."
See also: Life-changing win for home support workers comes into force
The lives of tens of thousands of home support workers will change today with the coming into force of an agreement for secure working hours.
From today, home support workers who provide often complex and intimate care for vulnerable people in their homes will have guaranteed hours of work - and a secure income.
The workers will be guaranteed initially at least a a minimum of 80 percent of their average working hours within agreed timeframes.
"For years, this has been a hidden workforce - but this change will begin to recognise home support workers and the valuable and important work they do," PSA Assistant National Secretary Kerry Davies says.
E tū delegate Jenny Stewart says until today, home support workers were paid by the client - so if a client moved away or went into hospital, their pay vanished.
"You’re on minimum wage so it’s tight anyway and it's horrible to live like that. So the security of guaranteed hours is huge," Ms Stewart says.
"This will enable a lot of people to sleep at night a little better."
E tū Senior organiser Sam Jones says that after three years of work, it is great to see the changes finally being implemented.
"It’s moved more than 20 thousand people off zero hour contracts.
"They now have job security and guaranteed hours and we have worked with everyone including the government to make this a reality."
Jenny Goodman, the support worker and PSA Delegate in whose name the original court case was taken, says this will make a big difference in support workers’ lives.
"It’s been really rewarding watching this long, constant battle come to fruition.
"It proves the power of being in a union, and of never giving up," she says.
"Until today, I’ve worried every day about whether I’ll have money to pay rent - and now I won’t have to," PSA delegate and home support worker Eleanor Keepa says.
For PSA delegate and home support worker Donna Weallans, guaranteed hours will bring a sense of security.
"Right now, I live pay-cheque to pay-cheque, and this change will mean I can make plans for my life and my kids’ lives."
NOTES FOR EDITORS
The original In Between Travel settlement agreement provided for home support workers to be paid for travelling time and travel costs in between client visits.
It was also agreed to introduce guaranteed hours and security of work for the home support sector.
This historic agreement was made between Unions, Providers, the Ministry of Health and DHBs.
It covers around 20,000 home support workers across the country and around 70 Employers.
The deal also includes access to level 3 training which will also benefit their clients.
See also: Victory for the vulnerable! PSA celebrates win for home support workers
Home support workers will get better recognition for the crucial work they do for some of New Zealand’s most vulnerable people - with legislation and a settlement package finally signed off.
The Home and Community Support Settlement Act confirms workers will be paid for the time they spend travelling between clients and receive compensation for mileage they accrue.
In addition, a settlement agreement between unions, the Ministry of Health, DHBs and providers will provide for a transition to guaranteed working hours, training and wages based on qualifications.
"The combination of the Bill and the settlement agreement will see home support workers getting the deal they deserve," PSA Assistant Secretary Kerry Davies says.
The new arrangements will affect 23,000 people working in the sector - nearly all of them are women, and almost half are on minimum wage.
Home care worker and PSA delegate Jenny Goodman’s legal case kicked off more than two years of negotiations, and she’s delighted.
"The negotiations were undertaken by the PSA and E Tū, but everyone in the sector will benefit," she says.
"Home support makes a huge difference to people’s lives and it also saves the government millions by keeping them out of rest-homes and hospital.
"We don’t do this job to get rich, we do it for the sense of achievement - but this will give us all a fair go, and ensure quality care for years to come."