Sleep working or wakeover?

Evaluating residential services for intellectually disabled people gave me an insight into the best, worst and in-between.

Some homes were so good I’d have been happy to move in myself, a couple were so bad I wouldn’t have left a stuffed toy in their care. Most were somewhere in between but tending towards the better end.

The residents varied as people without disabilities do. Some were happy, healthy and had a high level of independence. Some were unhappy, had physical and/or mental health problems, some were totally dependent. Others had varying levels of challenging behaviour which required extra skill and patience in those caring for them.

The key to what made the homes good or bad was the staff. Some were skilled, dedicated to and respectful of the people for whom they were caring.

One was so bad that had he not been wearing a uniform we’d have thought he was one of the residents with a personality disorder.

In some houses the staff who did night duty were there only for emergencies like fire, earthquakes or severe illness. They could rely on being able to go to bed and sleeping until morning almost every night and many had never been woken. In some the night staff had more onerous duties because residents had higher needs and a few had to get up at least once every night.

Given the different requirements and duties it’s difficult to apply a single rule over pay and conditions, yet that is what the court ruling saying sleepover staff must be paid a minimum wage does.

Sleepover staff usually begin their duties in the late afternoon or early evening and are paid an hourly rate until they go to be at about 10pm. They’re paid an allowance (about $35) for that and an hour’s pay for every part of an hour they have to get up during the night. They’re then on active duty from about 7am for a couple of hours until the residents go out for the day or day staff come on duty.

The court ruling means that they’d have to be paid at least $13 an hour for the time they’re in bed. This has expensive implications not just for providers of residential services for intellectually disabled people but others who employ sleepover staff like boarding schools, student halls of residence and rest homes.

I have no problem with paying people an hour’s work for any part hour they have to get up through the night.

I understand the need to be paid something for having to be somewhere for a specific time with responsibility for other people and for having sleep disturbed, or the potential for it.

But I don’t think people can be earning $13 an hour in their sleep.

 If employers have to pay an hourly rate they would be justified in expecting their staff to do more than sleep in return for it. Would staff then be prepared to make it a wakeover – to be  awake and actively doing something through the night?

Not all would:

Hawksbury Trust chairman Richard Thomson . . .  who is also a Southern DHB member, had mixed feelings about the Court of Appeal decision, saying it could prove to a “pyrrhic victory” for workers.

For many people, sleepover shifts allowed them to do other things during the day, such as studying at university or working another job. Many people had benefited from the set-up, and it did not seem right they may be in for back-pay. However, he could also see an element of unfairness in not paying an hourly rate.

“There will be winners and losers [among the workers].”

If staff aren’t prepared to be up and active,  they’re sleepworking. That requires some pay  butI don’t think the normal hourly pay expected for actively working  is justified. 

Kathryn Ryan did a prolonged interview on the court ruling and its implications on Thursday.

Kiwiblog also has reservations but Rob’s Blockhead and The Hand Mirror support the ruling.

7 Responses to Sleep working or wakeover?

  1. Pdogge says:

    The NZH suggests (of course) negotiation and some deeper reflection on the matter

  2. gravedodger says:

    Of course the realistic and meaningful responses to this ruling will come from those who avail themselves of the opportunity to sleep over at these residential places for subsidised accommodation, a wish to actually do the service or whatever reason who, because of the raising of the cost stakes will need to be spending the night awake and doing admin, cleaning, laundry or other activity that will preclude any sleep/rest that although open to broken patterns(many including self have zero problem with being woken as we go straight back to sleep) or just apparently dont need “8 hours” and suits their own current needs and their voices will not come up on the radar. However the ideologically pure will claim a victory including the members of the recent administration who in their 9 years did nothing in the matter.

    Without a legislative response to this, simple economics will dictate a productive component to the hours, now apparently to be paid, or more likely the closing of many smaller local places and a move to larger, centrally located “institutional” type facilities as oposed to those at present trying to be “family” based and community located, and that will be a lot less desirable.
    Imho it was not broken but the fixing will cause many unforseen outcomes and many will not necessarily be for the better.

  3. Farmer Baby Boomer says:

    “If staff are not prepared to be up and active, they’re sleepworking.That requires some pay but I don’t think the normal hourly pay expected for actively working is justified”

    Is that principle applied to professional Firemen? Obviously Firemen will be paid more for the active hours than the Careworkers of the disabled. But is that rate maintained for ” sleepworking” or are they given a flat rate per night?
    I don’t like the implication any increase has for demand on tax payers but I think the same principle has to apply to both.

  4. gravedodger says:

    As I understand it Paid firefighters work two day shifts with non active responding time doing vehicle,equipment checks, maintenance, education and promotion work.
    They then do two nights usually on station on call with an option of sleeping over.
    Then they have four days off but as part of their contract can be called back to duty if contactable in response to an emergency that needs a higher level of manning than that able to be provided by on duty staff.
    I am unaware of additional pay when actually fire fighting, road crash response or other emergency action but there will undoubtably be dirt money, meal money etc.

  5. homepaddock says:

    FBB – the editorial Pdogge links to says: “Fire service unions have negotiated contracts for time packages that include rostered overnight duty but not at an hourly rate.”

  6. Farmer Baby Boomer says:

    I need to apologize to female Firefighter’s for using the word “firemen” in my 9:26am comment. (Thank’s GD, your informative comment alerted me to that mistake.)

    HP – thanks for the quote re contracts negotiated by Fire Service unions. (I missed that in my hurried read of the editorial.)
    The editorial goes onto say – “Some such salary arrangement for community house minders would seem to be the best answer.”
    Sounds reasonable to me.

  7. giigig says:

    what sort of a prick are you this job is underpaid and cruel on the workers as it is your are pig
    experience this yourself before making judgement see how it feels to screw your life up working in the disability field and the demands on you health

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