Three quarters (75%) of care staff who look after people at home are not being paid for the time it takes them to travel between appointments, says UNISON.
The union says the finding, from a survey of more than 300 domiciliary care workers across England, reveals employers are effectively breaking minimum wage laws.
As a result, staff are hundreds of pounds short each month. This is money they can little afford to lose from their already rock-bottom wages and is rightfully theirs, says UNISON.
Homecare workers spend almost a fifth (19%) of their working day travelling between people’s homes*. UNISON says most are paid at or just above the minimum wage, but this hourly amount is dramatically reduced if their employer does not pay travel time.
UNISON is calling for travel time payment to become a contractual requirement. The union also wants employers to provide proper evidence for their employees, such as putting details of the reimbursement on pay slips.
One care worker said they had done a 12-hour day including time travelling between appointments, but their employer only paid them for 9 hours. Another in a rural area said they had to drive for at least 20 minutes between each care visit.
The impact on care staff denied this money is considerable, says UNISON. Some say they cannot afford to cover bills, are taking anti-depressants for stress and feel totally demoralised.
The union says vacancy levels across care – currently 165,000 – will simply increase unless ministers act now to eradicate the widespread practice of not paying travel time. Many who took part in the survey said they are looking for work in other sectors where they’d be paid for all the hours they spend at work.
Recommendations from the Low Pay Commission and the Director of Labour Market Enforcement to improve the situation have been ignored by ministers, says the union.
Instead, the government expects individual care workers – often on zero-hours contracts – to tell HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) if they believe they’re not being paid properly.
However, just 18% of workers in the survey were provided with pay slips accurately detailing their time spent travelling and what, if anything, they had been paid for this.
In the past 10 years, no care employer has been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service for failing to keep sufficient minimum wage records, according to HMRC data given to UNISON.
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Both care staff and those they look after are the victims of this pay scandal. Vulnerable people suffer when their already rationed care visits are cut short or delayed.
“UNISON has been highlighting this exploitation for over a decade. Yet the government has responded with inaction and indifference.
“These appalling working practices must be tackled urgently if more people are to be encouraged to work in a sector desperately short of staff. Disabled and elderly people receiving care support will want an end to the exploitation of those looking after them. When it does, everyone will benefit.”