London care workers paid less than minimum wage

After the controversy surrounding Sports Direct in recent months and the company allegedly paying staff below the minimum wage, the care sector was in the headlines this past week.

£3.27 per hour!

A sector notoriously renowned for low pay, this recent case involves 17 care workers from London who are alleging that they were paid below the minimum wage. The carers were employed by Sevacare, a care provider that was contracted by the Haringey Council and have produced payslips which appear to show an hourly rate of £3.27 – less than half the then minimum wage.

The company have said that they pay workers above the minimum wage, however travelling time and hours that were deemed off-duty were not paid. Unison, the union representing the workers says that the £3.27 rate was being paid to a number of women who acted as “live-in” care workers (that is carers who stay overnight at the client’s home). This is well below the current national living wage of £7.20 per hour, which came into force in April of this year and raised the minimum wage from £6.70 per hour for employees aged over 25. The carers say that they stayed in the home of an elderly woman suffering from severe dementia for seven days at a time and were effectively on duty around the clock, 24 hours a day tending to the needs of the lady during the night.

“Like being in prison”

The workers have likened the treatment to slavery or imprisonment stating that they were not allowed to leave the house all week and although they were on zero-hour contracts, Unison says the women felt they would be penalised by the company for turning down work. The union state that this case is not unique and that home care workers across the country have had similar experiences due to the huge cutbacks in funding from the government.

The workers in this case have spoken about the pleasure and enjoyment they got for looking after the elderly and vulnerable people in their care and the bonds of trust and companionship that they built with their clients. One of the claimants who visited her clients by bus revealed that there were some days when she spent more time travelling to her clients than actually caring for them. She says that she could spend 7 hours each day in the London traffic and not be paid for it.

The low pay economy

A report published at the beginning of 2015 by the Resolution Foundation estimated that around 160,000 care workers in England and Wales were being paid less than the minimum wage and were subsequently losing out on an average of £815 each per year.

The care sector employs around 1.4 million people in the UK and has long been associated with low pay in an age of austerity with funding cuts and an ageing population creating a strain on the sector. Last year the HMRC announced it would investigate whether the big six care providers were paying employees the minimum wage.

Sevacare have responded by saying that the “live-in” care workers were contracted to a “daily average agreement” which meant they were paid for 10 hours. The company claims they were paid £550 for a 7-day week, equivalent to £7.85 per hour.

As mentioned, the backdrop to this story is interesting given the headlines Sports Direct have been receiving (a company that also uses zero-hour contracts) and the recent coverage surrounding modern slavery. It will be interesting to see how this case develops as this is the largest ever legal claim and could turn out to be one of the worst breaches of pay rules ever.

If you have any questions around the minimum wage or any other employment issues, do not hesitate to give us a call on 0131 225 7458.

For further information on this story see BBC News and the Guardian.

Image source: BBC News

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