Home care research exposes toll of unpaid travel and overtime

Low-paid disability support workers are spending large amounts of their working day in activities that are unpaid, a new study has found.

Low-paid disability support workers are spending large amounts of their working day in activities that are unpaid, a new study has found.

The study conducted by researchers at RMIT University analysed the work patterns and pay of 10 employees delivering support under the National Disability Insurance Scheme over three consecutive work days.

The research investigated two main types of unpaid work – travel between clients and overtime spent on administration and providing extra support to clients.

For some of the disability support workers, this unpaid work made up a quarter of their working day and was equivalent to a third or more of their paid work time.

Of the 10 workers in this study, half recorded 12 per cent or more of their work time as unpaid, including one worker who spent 21 per cent of their time consumed in unpaid work.

The financial cost to the already low-paid support workers was significant, ranging from $8.84 to $180 over the three days studied.

If all travel between clients and overtime had been paid, the workers would have received between 2 and 27 per cent more pay, according to the study published in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed journal Economic and Labour Relations Review.

The frontline workers raised unpaid travel time as a particularly negative aspect of their jobs, especially when client visits were short.

As an example, one support worker in the study spent an hour and a half travelling directly between clients in a day.

The mainly part-time workers cited fear of jeopardising further work opportunities as a key reason for not turning down shifts that involved a lot of travel, as well as a sense of responsibility to their clients or managers.

A provision for paid travel time is not included in the industrial award for the sector, and only one employer in this research paid for travel between clients as part of an enterprise agreement.

However, seven of the disability support workers received a per-kilometre reimbursement for using their own cars when travelling between clients.

“Employers appear to have actively exploited the lack of clear minimum standards: paying vehicle allowances for travel between assignments suggests acceptance of this activity as work – while not paying wages for this time,” the authors wrote in the study’s published findings.

Unpaid overtime

Half of the workers in the study accrued 50 minutes or more over the three days in unpaid work completing administration such as writing up client notes or providing extra support to clients. For four workers, this type of work amounted to 10 per cent or more of their paid work time.

The authors described this form of unpaid work as “endemic” and invisible to employers as the additional work was often absorbed into the unpaid time between their shifts.

Unexpected events such as client illness, family carers returning home late or a mismatch between client needs and funded supports were cited as some of the reasons for providing unpaid support to clients.

Many of the staff said they undertook unpaid work due to a personal commitment to providing quality care. They also linked their willingness to undertake unpaid work to job insecurity and to keep clients happy. The staff also reported it was often difficult or impractical to claim the regular overtime.

“Inferior benefits and conditions for social care workers were established in Australian employment regulation long before the introduction of the NDIS. However, our findings support the view that the NDIS is further institutionalising employment practices that produce wages underpayment,” the authors wrote.

The research was conducted by RMIT researchers Fiona MacDonald, Eleanor Bentham and Jenny Malone.

They said further investigation of these issues was necessary through a larger study.

Policy response overseas

Legal cases have been brought in New Zealand and England to challenge the practice of unpaid travel time between client visits resulting in recognition of travel time as paid work time.

In 2015, the New Zealand government introduced a travel time payment to cover travel between clients.

Read the RMIT study in full here and an article published by the researchers in The Conversation here.

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6 thoughts on “Home care research exposes toll of unpaid travel and overtime

  1. This is to say nothing of individuals directly engaged by self-managers of packages, who in addition to not being paid for vehicle use and travel time, may not be paid the award wage to start with.

  2. Are these providers claiming the up to 20minutes of Provider Travel time allowed by the NDIS Price Guide for each shift of personal care or community access provided to an NDIS participant? (This amount is to offset the cost a provider incurs to pay staff to travel to provide NDIS supports to participants). If so, and they are not in fact incurring a cost because they are not paying their staff for their travel time I would be challenging this as a consumer and demanding an explanation and from the NDIA’s perspective I would be seeking an explanation from providers about this practice.

  3. This is a disgrace and industry norm that needs clear legal challenge in a class action for the industry and its’ workers. If the government is serious about securing a skilled long term framework of care workers supporting the community need in the long term projections of 2050 then we need a strong politician to stand up for care workers!! We face skill shortages in the industry because carers are being exploited to the point of unviability by care providers using unfair practices to boost their gross percentages (profits) in an already profitable and sustainable business model. It is nothing but sheer greed! When will care provider companies finally mature and grow up and realise that the cost of paying time and allowances for travel between clients is their legal responsibility as employers under the award. But it doesn’t stop there, even Fair Work won’t stand to challenge employers rorting and ripping off workers!!! Fair work simply whimper and cowl on the sidelines and point to the award terminology that neither clarifies nor resolve the responsibility of employers doing what is legally right. If a salesperson was travelling from client to client over 12 hours in a day they would be paid for their day (not just 8.5hours they spent with the client), their travel costs, their must have phone, their breaks, and any reasonable costs incurred in doing their job for the business they work for would be covered, and in general in most industries is covered. Care workers are not much different to those sales people, we travel from client to client, bringing in revenue for the company, using skills and experience YET we, (us carers), have to use our own cars, register them, maintain them, comprehensively insure them, clean them (like a taxi), and get from client to client to client over 10-14 hour days. The care industry is nothing more than a rorte of government funding taking the greedy larger slice of the pie and leaving the care workers underpaid, overworked, and out of pocket by almost 1/3 of their income and time. So let’s not hold our breaths here, because it seems no one has the guts to challenge this or see it right by workers, not even the gutless union HSU. I would love to hear some responses from a legal firm that would take this one up pro-bono!!! It could potentially shake the industry more than an A-bomb!.

  4. The company I worked for was paying us $3 per hour for every hour we were in a client’s house instead of the 78 or 79 cents per kilometre that the Award states. So basically they were only paying us for about 3.5 to 7 km of travel between each job and sometimes we had to travel from one side of the city to the other side of the city in peak hour traffic which would take an hour at least to get through, hence it chewed up petrol. Then another time I went from the South side of the city to a rural area on the northside of the city.

    They don’t pay for depreciation on our cars, or help with the registration or tyres and mechanical issues to with the wear and tear on our cars.

    The company I worked for was so miserly that they didn’t even provide personal protective equipment and said we could get it back on tax, however we didn’t even earn enough to get taxed.

    They refused to pay me for my first aid certificate, for laundry allowance, for my mobile phone monthly plan yet all these cost are in the Award.

    I suggest to anyone who has worked at any of these companies to check out the appropriate Award. It may be stated at the top of pay slips.

    A number of nursing organisations are now doing dodgy things.

    I also too, wonder with the company I used to work for if they were doing something dodgy because I was only getting 1 or 2 hour shifts and sometimes I was working 12 hours a day to and make about $180. I talked with someone else working for another company and she said her shifts were 2 and 3 hours so I am now wondering if the company I use to work for was basically keeping an extra hours worth of pay, but mind you we did get clients to sign what we had worked and I usually put one or two hours. Nothing would surprise me, because an investigative journalist looked into them in the past.

    Good luck to anyone trying to get their backpay through the FWO. You can see how many people are disgruntled when you look at the FWO Facebook page.

    And I do agree, that yes we weren’t compensated for the time we had to contact them re. matters or fill out incident reports and then they also had the nerve to try and pressure me into working any shift, any time. I flatly refused and told them , the hours that I wanted to work.

  5. If you know of any fraud contact the NDIS even if it is relation to your pay, because they may be able to help you.

    Also I suggest to people to tote up their payslips and make sure it is equal to the ATO payment summaries. God only knows why the silly government let the employers just send the payment summaries directly to them, because there is less likehood of an employee picking up something suspicious is happening. I racked my brain as to why my ATO payment summaries were less than my pay slips and I’ve come to the conclusion that the organisation may have falsified documentation in my name so they would have to pay less tax. I mention that to the ATO today to their tip off line.

    So angry with these companies because all up I have been underpaid by 4 nursing organisations. 3 aged care facilities and 1 community nursing organisation.. I suggest everyone particularly the nurses from 3rd world countries check their Awards and Enterprise Bargaining Agreements.

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