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Home care worker: '€10.10 an hour, no guaranteed hours and no sick leave'

Insecure, low paid working conditions are being encouraged by State policy towards private home care workers, writes Sinead Pembroke.

Sinead Pembroke Researcher at TASC

WE’VE BEEN HEARING a lot from Fine Gael recently, about wanting Ireland to be a country that rewards work and those who work hard.

Yet, Fine Gael have been in government since 2011, and they have presided over may policies (or lack thereof) that have left many workers and hard-working people on low wages, no job security and thus not rewarded for the important work they do. One such sector are people working in private home care as home care assistants.

Private home care assistants well qualified, on low pay and no guaranteed hours

Most private homecare assistants are qualified with a minimum of FETAC level 5, however, the rate of pay averages in the region of €10.50 per hour. The zero-hour/ if- and-when contract is the norm in the private homecare sector, where there are no guaranteed hours.

Phil (pseudonym) has worked as a home care assistant for a private company for over two years for €10.10 an hour, no guaranteed hours and no sick leave.

Flexibility that suits the employer

Having no guaranteed hours makes it easy to be controlled by management because they can simply not allocate hours the following week, if a home care assistant is not able to work. Also, when it comes to getting time off from work, management manipulate home care assistants by using a lot of guilt tactics because they know that carers build a bond with their clients.

Phil said that when he had to take time off because he or one of his children was sick, management try to pressure him into coming in by saying, “that person needs care, are you saying you won’t go into them?”

While they are entitled to holidays, a lot of obstacles are put in place as to when they can take them. At the end of the day, it has to suit the employer. This practice occurs even when they’ve applied in advance and it has been sanctioned. Phil described how he had applied for a weekend off five months in advance. As the weekend approached, he was told that they couldn’t find a replacement for him and that he had to work.

Travelling forty minutes for a half hour call

There is also a large amount of unpaid work that carers have to do, such as travelling from one client to the other. Neither do they get paid for staying longer with the client. They are monitored through a clocking in system, to the point that if they leave five minutes early in order to get to their next client, their wages are deducted.

As Phil noted:

I don’t even know what I earned minus petrol going from home to home because they were all over Dublin; sometimes you could drive for forty minutes for the half hour you’re going there to work for. And they don’t pay you an hour’s pay for a half-hour call, they pay you half of the hour, so it just isn’t worth it.

Phil still works a half-an-hour call in order to stay employed and keep his hours, even though it isn’t worth it.

Private carers aspire to public carer’s working terms and conditions

The HSE-run services are where most homecare workers aspire to be employed in.

Compared to the private sector, the average rate of pay is €15 per hour, and they have guaranteed hours negotiated into their contract, so that they must be paid for a set period of time. They also have a pension, which they can avail of. Public sector carers also get paid for going from one client to the next. These terms and conditions were negotiated by their union, SIPTU.

Policy encouraging precarity in home care sector

When a person needs home help, they are allocated a care package. This is about to change to care-specific packages where the client’s family can decide who they choose, which is allowing the private sector access to hours that were naturally allocated to homecare workers in the public sector.

Through this move insecure, low paid working conditions are being encouraged by State policy. Rather than building on the good terms and conditions that the home care workers already enjoy in the public sector, this move carries the risk of diminishing these, as more public money is diverted to private companies who hire home care workers on these poor terms and conditions.

Furthermore, private sector companies are advertising additional services, such as Alzheimer’s care, meaning they are no longer just providing traditional home help, (light domestic duties and light medical duties). This could make it more attractive to families, not realising the working conditions for these carers.

A secure, well-paid carer is good for the client and their family

Most home care assistants want to see that their clients are looked after and that the service is built upon. They would like to remain as home care assistants, but they find the lack of security a real challenge for them. As Phil said, “I struggle through every day. I don’t think about the future because I can’t, I’m living day to day. It doesn’t make for a very secure life.”

The precarious nature of home care in the private sector has made it very transient, which also impacts on the quality of the care that a client receives because that commitment to developing and delivering a good quality of life to that person in their home diminishes.

Rather than divert funding to the private sector, the government should be building and funding the public home care sector, so as to continue to promote working practices that are positive for both the home care worker and the client.

Sinead Pembroke is a researcher at TASC.

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About the author:

Sinead Pembroke  / Researcher at TASC

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