And another minimum wage issue which hasn't been put to bed yet.....

Wednesday March 6th, 2013

You may have noticed this week the Public Service Association has been complaining about the length of time it is taking the Ministry of Health to sort out disability support workers sleepover backpay.

In 2011 the Court of Appeal upheld earlier findings by the Employment Court in the long-running case of Food and Service Workers Union member and disability support worker Phillip Dickson, ruling support workers were working on sleepovers and should be paid at least the adult minimum wage for every hour of their shifts.

The Sleepover Wages (Settlement)Act was introduced in October 2011 to provide the mechanism for the settlement of claims related to the Dickson case.

The Government allocated $27.5 million for the back pay, but both the Service and Food Workers Union and the PSA have been critical of bureaucratic delays in payment.

This week PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff said the Ministry of Health (MOH) had told providers if they started paying the full minimum wage to their workers before the final Order in Council sign off, the Ministry will not reimburse them for its share of the sleepover backpay.

SFWU national secretary John Ryall said his union had two providers in this group.

“ While it is not really an issue for our members whose settlement agreementa have been signed off, the MOH attitude is picky and miserable for the funding of the providers concerned.”

Let’s hope it can be sorted out soon. However, it won’t be the last we hear on the sleepover issue.

The question of minimum pay for sleepover time is expected to go before the Employment Court again this year, this time involving workers in school boarding houses.

The workers from Iona College (Hawkes Bay) and Woodford House (Havelock North), represented by the Service and Food Workers Union, will be relying on the principles established in the Phillip Dickson and Idea Services Ltd case.

The boarding schools' case is the first one in which applicants have sought to apply the principles of the Dickson case outside the residential disability sector.

In October, the parties successfully sought to have the matter removed from the Employment Relations Authority to the Employment Court for consideration.

The schools stated their main defence was workers were not conducting ''work'' as that word was used in the Minimum Wage Act.
The joint memorandum from the parties said the case was ''likely to have ramifications in other parts of the education sector and other `sleepover' situations outside of the residential disability sector''.

Mr Ryall said the number of workers affected in boarding schools was probably 50 to 60 nationally.

However, if back pay became involved, as it was in the Idea Services case, there could be hundreds of workers entitled to claim some part of that.

- Elspeth McLean

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