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The home-care provider sector could be hit with a big pay claim after legal advice stating carers should be paid for travel time between jobs.
The Human Rights Commission sought guidance from law firm Russell McVeagh on paying carers for travel after the release of its Caring Counts report into pay-equity issues.
The opinion, issued to the commission on September 21, said a case would have a reasonable prospect of success.
The legal argument is the same as that used in the battle to obtain the minimum wage for carers doing sleepover shifts, a case cited in the advice.
Travelling between jobs was an essential part of the ser-vice, and was time employees could not spend doing anything else, the advice stated.
The Service and Food Workers Union has filed a test case with the Employment Relations Authority, and has asked for the authority to send the case to the Employment Court.
"We believe it is illegal for organisations employing home support workers not to pay them at least the minimum wage for the time they spend travelling between clients," union national secretary John Ryall said.
The test case has been filed in the name of Wellington worker Tamara Baddeley.
"Tamara, and thousands of other home support workers, get paid for the time they spend at a client's house, but not all the time they spend driving from client to client," Mr Ryall said.
The workers were paid an allowance for mileage, but were not paid for the time spent travelling.
This was a serious injustice for an already lowly paid job, he said.
Human Rights Commission Equal Opportunity Commissioner Judy McGregor has backed the union's claim.
Health Minister Tony Ryall yesterday said it was "a matter between home-care employers and home-care employees. We are aware different employers have different approaches, and we will be watching how the case progresses".
John Ryall was also frustrated by slow progress in obtaining back pay for workers for six years of sleepover payments, more than a year since reaching agreement with the Government to settle the long-running case.
Bureaucratic delays meant staff of only nine of more than 100 affected providers had been paid, he said.
Ministry of Health national services purchasing director Jill Lane said the process was complex because it involved reaching agreements between employees and employers.
By the end of the year, 40% of settlements would be complete.
Another 65 cases were either under consideration or would be presented soon, she said.