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News for SFWU Disability Support Services Members


Disability support workers throughout the country are welcoming a Court of Appeal judgment that requires they be paid the minimum wage for providing 24-hour support for people with disabilities and in community mental health facilities 

The Court of Appeal has ruled that disability support workers are working when doing overnight sleepover shifts and should be paid the adult minimum wage for every hour of the shift.

The legal action was launched by the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) and the Public Service Association (PSA) in 2007. Between us, both unions have thousands of members working sleepover shifts providing 24-hour support for adults with disabilities and in community mental health facilities. 

"This is an important issue of justice for members of both unions," says PSA National Secretary Richard Wagstaff.

 "This is a great day for disability support workers throughout the country," says John Ryall National Secretary SFWU.

"Now this judgment is out, it is time for the Government to fund the sector so that providers can comply with their legal obligations to pay the minimum wage," said Richard Wagstaff.

"Disability support work is complex and comes with serious responsibility. Up until now disability support workers pay rates have been linked to the chronically low levels of government funding for the sector not the level of skill and responsibility of the work," said Mr Ryall.

The SFWU will be sending out an update to members soon, but in the meantime if you want to read the full court judgment you can click here.

Media Release 

Court Judgment

National Secretary John Ryall's blog post on this

Related Media Coverage:

Wage decision celebrated - Christchurch Star 22 Feb 2011

ODT editorial 21 Feb 2011

NZ Herald editorial Feb 19, 2011

Timaru Herald editorial 18 Feb 2011

Workers welcome sleepover decision  - Timaru Herald 18 Feb 2011

Gisborne Herald editorial 18 Feb 2011

Disability worker wins sleepover pay case - Dominion Post, 17 Feb 2011

Disability support workers win pay row - One News, 16 Feb 2011

Care workers applaud shift ruling (Rotorua Daily Post, 16 Feb 2011


What is this case about?

The Union launched this case in 2007 because we believe that disability support workers are poorly paid for the very important work they do supporting people with intellectual disability in the community.  The movement of people with disabilities out of psychiatric and psychopaedic hospitals into the community was a very important step to allow these people to live an ordinary life.  However, it was done on the cheap and relied on the employment of a low-paid workforce, who were expected to stay on the employer's premises overnight to provide on-call support.  After years of struggle to get the Government to improve the funding to lift the wage levels, disability support workers have needed to resort to the courts for wage justice.

The case before the Court of Appeal involves disability support worker Phil Dickson who is a member of the SFWU.

Mr Dickson works at a residential house in Horowhenua that is home to four men with intellectual disabilities who need 24-hour support. He works 9 -hour overnight sleepover shifts for which he is paid an allowance of $34. This amounts to $3.77 an hour, a third of the adult minimum wage of $12.75 an hour set by the government. The government is increasing the minimum wage to $13 an hour on April 1.      

Like others in the sector Mr Dickson is allowed to sleep during overnight sleepover shifts but workers are responsible for the health and safety of residents and need to deal with incidents as they arise.

"I need to be readily available to attend to any incidents and support residents during these shifts," says Mr Dickson.

Backpay claim

The Union has filed for arrears of wages for nearly 3000 disability support and community mental health members in the Employment Relations Authority.  These claims have been currently parked up on instructions from the Employment Court. However, the filing of claims is important as it preserves our members' claims backdated to six years from the date they were filed. We can add more names into the ERA proceedings, but to do so members need to fill out one of our union authority forms and go on to our database in Auckland.

If you have filled a form out and have subsequently moved to another employer we need to know urgently as our authority is only valid providing members remain financial. To update your details ring SFWU Member Support on 0800 UNION1 (0800 864 661)

Newsletters and documents to download

(click on the links to view the files as PDFs)

** Union Authority to Act form **

[form asking the union to add your name to the list of members claiming Sleepover backpay]

IHC newsletter 16 June 2010

IHC newsletter 21 April 2010

IHC newsletter 12 April 2010

Action Update 24 March

Action Timeline

Idea Services Q&A 1

Join the union campaign to raise the pay and status of disability support work

Residential and home-support services are characterised by low pay, inadequate training and lack of recognition for skills and experience.

Members of the PSA and Service and Food Workers Union are planning to make a difference through a nationwide campaign for decent pay and recognition of qualifications and experience.

SFWU organiser Beryl Kirk says "This campaign is about gaining greater recognition for Disability Support workers and the huge job they do that is undervalued and under paid. The aim is to get increased funding to get pay rates equivalent to the Health care assistants in DHBs"

Show your support for the campaign for decent pay, decent work, decent lives.

Click here to visit the PSA website and read more about our joint campaign.

The two unions have prepared a paper on the disability sector and the issues driving the underpayment of its workers. This was released on 3 December 2010 and is being sent to all Members of Parliament - including Disability Issues Minister Tariana Turia and Health Minister Tony Ryall - and disability sector employers. 

Postcard campaign

Together we are running a postcard campaign to MP Tariana Turia asking her to raise the status of disability workers. Ask your organiser or delegate for postcards!

Other news

Unions mark 'International Day of Persons with Disabilities' 

Disability Support Worker Awareness week 10-16 August  

Disability support workers gain historic legal victory

Living Wage

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