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?
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.