'Sleepover' issue set to return to court

The issue of minimum pay for ''sleepover'' time is expected to go before the Employment Court again next 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 ground-breaking 2011 Court of Appeal ruling in the long-running case of disability support worker Phillip Dickson and Idea Services Ltd.

The court upheld earlier findings by the Employment Court that such support workers were working on sleepovers and should be paid at least the adult minimum wage for every hour of their shifts.

The boarding schools' case is the first one in which applicants have sought to apply the principles of the Idea Services 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.

In the parties' joint memorandum to the authority, the schools stated their main defence was workers were not conducting ''work'' as that word was used in the Minimum Wage Act.

The memorandum 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''.

In his determination removing the matter for consideration in the Employment Court, authority member Greg Wood accepted the determination of the matter could affect other employers in the education and other sectors and involved an important question of law.

National secretary of the Service and Food Workers Union John 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.

Recently, Mr Ryall has been critical of bureaucratic delays in back pay for workers under the Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Act 2011, introduced in October last year to provide the mechanism for settlement of claims related to the Idea Services case.

Earlier this month, National Health Board national services purchasing director Jill Lane said $21.717 million had been spent on back pay so far and further claims of $68,638 were expected to be paid before Christmas.

The Ministry of Health anticipated all of the $27.5 million pool allocated for the back pay would be used, she said in a statement.

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