Thursday, 17 February 2011

Good News

Yesterday the Court of Appeal upheld the SFWU & PSA case against IDEA Services - more usually known as the 'sleepover case'.

For those who haven't been following it - across the country there are residential houses, which offer around the clock care for people who need for disability or mental health reasons. These are funded (or rather underfunded) by the government. At the moment, the caregivers in these houses are paid what are called 'sleep-over rates' overnight. IDEA Services pays its works $34 for a 9 hour shift. This is obviously well below the minimum wage.

The unions involved took a case in 2007 to argue that workers should be paid the minimum wage. They won in the Employment court, and have now won in the court of appeal. Consistently the courts have found that since the workers have to be there then it is work (I could have told them that for free, but oh well) and should have been paid the minimum wage (for more information see the Service and Food Workers Union website - which is where I got the picture from).

I think this is one of the most important active feminist struggles in New Zealand at the moment. New Zealand feminists have been fighting for equal pay for equal work for a very long time. And we haven't won yet jobs that are preformed by women are consistently judged of less worth than jobs that are performed by men.

And this is a classical example: jobs that are dominated by men, Doctors, Firefighters, and ambulance officers, all get paid far more than minimum wage and are able to sleep on the job. Whereas disability service workers are mostly women, so they're not even working.

However, unfortunately victory in the courts may not deliver either backpay or a new. The IHC has made preparations to go bankrupt if they have to pay the money. Unless the government, which is the funder of services and so was, and has been, complicit in this whole thing. The government has also indicated that it would be prepared to change the law specifically to stop the payment of minimum wage over sleep overs (it's willing to make exceptions to the labour law for itself, as well as film studios).

So it's important not to just rely on the courts to make this change, but to actively support the workers in their struggle to get the very most basic wages and conditions.


Tui said...

That's terrific news - my brother is a sleepover worker, has been for most of his time at university, and it's frustrating to see how much he works for how little he gets paid. It's tough work with a lot of responsibility. Plus the conditions are pretty awful (he's gotten scabies multiple times), and because everyone who works for IHC knows perfectly well that they have no spare money and very few workers, things like leave and raises pretty much never happen.

Anonymous said...

Hey whilst I applaud the success in this case, you have to get with the 21st century.

More than half our medical graduates are womena nd have been for more than 10 years now. Please stop the line about professions dominated by men. It isn't true any longer. and it should be celebrated! Yay for us

And yes, I got to sleep when working nights sometimes.

Maia said...

Hey anonymous

You're right that's true. Medical graduates are now half women (and of course instantly some people start hand ringing because where are the boys ::eye rolls::)

I think my point still stands, because the wages and conditions that they have (and I'm not suggesting they're OK, and support their struggles for improvements) were negotiated generally while it was male dominated (certainly teh ability to sleep was.

I've also heard some interesting research about both the pay and the respect that some areas of medicine (I think maybe GP) get have gone down as they have become women dominated areas of the profession. But I don't have any references.

Just a reminder - our comment policy requires that you use a handle or pseydonym if commenting anonymously.

AnneE said...

This is an extremely important case because it shows the true cost of "caring" work if such work is properly paid. There are many other "caring" jobs where workers are grossly underpaid and have to put up with appalling rules, e.g. those who come into private homes to provide care such as showering,etc. who have no guaranteed basic income - if one of their "clients" goes to hospital or dies (as Harvey did at Christmas), the caregiver simply loses the pay until they can get another "client". As for proper hourly pay, the people who come in to provide respite for the principal caregiver (who was me) get a ludicrous amount for 24 hours of care - it works out to less than $4 an hour. They, too, deserve proper pay.