Legal battle over sleepover shifts demonstrates union role in women’s pay equity struggle

June 23, 2011

Horizontal labour market segregation on the basis of gender has been well-entrenched in New Zealand’s economy, including within the care sector which is majority-comprised of women workers. The following article by Kelly Pope - a member of the Christchurch branch of the Workers Party who works as a mental health support person – demonstrates the continued relevance of the workers’ movement and trade unionism in addressing equal pay issues.

In 2007 the Service and Food Workers’ Union (SFWU) and the Public Service Association (PSA) took cases against two major residential service providers in the intellectual disability sector, attempting to gain minimum wage pay for hours spent on sleepover shifts. After a decision by the Employment Relations Authority that considered sleeping over to be work, the issue was appealed to the Employment Court by IHC in May 2009. A support worker who was employed by IHC’s IDEA Services, Phil Dickson, was the individual applicant in this case.

Since then, the Employment Court has found the existing payment of sleepover rates to be in breach of the Minimum Wage Act, ruling in favour of Mr Dickson and the union. A subsequent case taken to the Court of Appeal by IHC has resulted in the same outcome. Since this decision on 16th February 2011, the case has been taken further by IHC and will now be considered by the Supreme Court with a decision expected sometime after this year’s general election. While this long legal process has been unfolding, the PSA has filed additional legal proceedings against more than thirty health and disability support employers also currently paying below minimum wage sleepover rates, including Barnardos, Hawkes Bay DHB, Spectrum Care and Healthcare NZ. Read the rest of this entry »


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