Hopes were high that the working lives of home support workers would be transformed by their historic pay equity settlement and the introduction of guaranteed hours and travel time payments.
But despite these hard fought victories the income and hours of support workers remain insecure – forcing many to leave the jobs they love.
That’s why the PSA and E tū are launching a campaign to improve conditions for home support workers who provide a vital service for thousands of New Zealanders.
The campaign is also a key election priority for the PSA in 2019 - and we’re calling on home support workers to lobby DHB candidates to get on board.
PSA delegate Jenny Goodman filed a case against Healthcare NZ in 2013 so support workers would be paid for the time and cost of travel between clients.
But she says the implementation of the in between travel settlement, and in particular guaranteed hours has been totally mismanaged.
“Funders and providers didn’t train staff properly so it’s never been properly administered. It needs an overhaul.”
Jenny says the 50 cents per kilometre pay rate hasn’t been increased in 5 years and now doesn’t cover the costs.
“I know one worker who drove 300 kilometres in one weekend. He’s still subsidising the cost of travel.”
Many workers are also paying for work phones and data out of their own pockets.
The morning Working Life spoke to support worker Helen Amey she’d had a 45 minute booking with one of her clients, but as he didn’t want a shower it only took 20 minutes.
“So because we’re paid by the minute I lose out, even though it’s not my fault it was so cold he didn’t want a shower,” Helen says.
It’s typical of situations that lead to a loss of pay for workers, despite the introduction of guaranteed hours in 2017.
Workers report that when clients cancel, pass away or move into care, guaranteed hours are cut.
Consequently workers like Helen spend their own time trying to make sure they get paid correctly.
“You expect to be paid a certain amount, but you have to fight for the money over and over again. It really wears you down, it’s draining.”
A key intention of the care and support equal pay settlement was to incentivise training, but qualified workers report they are losing hours to less qualified staff.
Following the settlement there have been reports of escalating workplace intimidation and bullying.
A survey of union members has found alarming numbers have suffered injuries (42%) or verbal abuse (29%) on the job.
Since 2017 many clients’ care times have been slashed, while workers often don’t get rostered breaks.
PSA assistant national secretary Melissa Woolley says a consistent well funded system needs to be implemented urgently to ensure the future of the home support sector, and the wellbeing of clients and workers.
“Our workers also need decent regularised jobs with real income security. Guaranteed hours shouldn’t fluctuate every few weeks or months.”
Ms Woolley says the value of home support needs to be recognised.
“It is often invisible work as people travel from client to client. But it’s so important and saves the country so much money by enabling the elderly and disabled to live at home.”
Helen Amey says the issues home support workers face are disheartening.
“I love the job and the people we support are so grateful for our help. It’s a feel good job except for the battle with management and cuts to hours.”
It includes expectations public service leaders work in partnership with Māori to deliver services that work for Māori, and develop a workforce that reflects the community it serves.
While the Government’s plan for public service reform does not reverse many of the neo-liberal elements of the State Sector Act it still represents a significant step forward. The reforms will provide better mechanisms to enable cross agency work and help break down silos in government.
“As a school social worker I’m responsible for more than 600 kids and I earn about the same amount as I did twenty years ago working in a bank.”