Listed company Green Cross Health could be forced to make a big payment to its home care workers, after the PSA union announced legal action against its Access Community Health subsidiary

The PSA is claiming Access Community Health, which employs more than 3000 home and community support workers, under-paid wages, didn’t provide the regular and guaranteed hours workers are entitled to, and didn’t give them breaks.

“Our members are employed under a legally binding collective agreement with Access Community Health, and this agreement means they have rights,” said PSA national secretary Kerry Davies.

 “Their employer must pay them properly, allocate them the right amount of hours, and ensure they get ten minute breaks in the course of their sometimes gruelling work day. 

“Our legal action is about making sure that happens.”

The compensation involved could be several million dollars, a union spokesperson said.

The PSA’s lawyers have filed a “statement of problem” with the Employment Relations Authority in Wellington seeking more information on the situation for workers at Access, and how much they are owed in underpaid wages.

If it is successful in its claim against Access Community Health, the PSA hopes workers employed by other companies in the community support sector will also get fairer treatment – and potentially compensation.

“It isn’t just Access. You’d be hard pressed to find support workers anywhere not dealing with these issues.”

This isn’t the first action against the health provider. Mid last year, Access administration workers launched a series of strikes to protest their pay and conditions.

“Access is a for-profit company receiving Government funds paid by workers’ taxes to deliver home support to older and disabled people, and the PSA fears their attitude and treatment of their staff does not bode well for those people they are contracted to provide services for,” Davies said at the time.

Meanwhile, the PSA and E tū unions this week joined forces with Grey Power to launch a petition demanding the Government invest in home support services to provide better care for elderly and disabled people, and ensure better pay and conditions for the carers that look after them. 

In particular the unions called for support carers to be given regular shifts, like others in the health sector. At the moment home care workers are given random hours during the work day, and might have as few as two paid hours a week. 

Carers can also have hours taken away if one of their clients goes into hospital or dies.

See Newsroom’s recent story “Carers disillusioned to the point of despair”

Neither Green Cross or Access returned Newsroom’s calls about the legal action, but in the past they have argued they cannot improve pay and conditions of their support workers without getting more government funding.

Reporting its financial result for the year to March 31 (a turnaround from a net profit of $100,000 last year to $2.5 million for 2020), Green Cross said profit margins were “very slim” and they were forced to continually look for areas where they could reduce costs.

“Continued advocacy for sustainable government funding for this sector remains a must,” group CEO Rachael Newfield said. “To deliver support to our most vulnerable in their communities requires sustainable funding.”

Nikki Mandow was Newsroom's business editor and the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Business Journalist of the Year @NikkiMandow.

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