Disability support workers are celebrating a legal victory in their battle to be paid a legal living wage for providing 24-hour support for people with intellectual disabilities and mental disorders.
The Court of Appeal has ruled that workers doing overnight sleepover shifts 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.
"This is a day of victory for the members of both unions," PSA National Secretary Richard Wagstaff said.
"The government has been underfunding the disability support sector for years. It's time for the government to step up to its responsibilities and fund the providers so they can pay their staff a legal living wage."
SFWU National Secretary John Ryall said disability support work was complex but until now workers' pay rates had been chronically low.
He told TVNZ News at 8 that the government needed to make an investment in the sector.
Any funding problem, he said, that resulted from the pay change was "clearly in the government's camp".
The case before the Court of Appeal involved disability support worker Phil Dickson who works at a residential house in Horowhenua where four men with intellectual disabilities need 24-hour support.
Dickson has been paid an allowance of $34 for working 9-hour overnight sleepover shifts - a third of the adult minimum wage of $12.75 an hour set by the government.
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," said Dickson.
Disability support worker Vincent Harding said he is paid less than $5 an hour when he works sleepover shifts.
"You can't get a babysitter for that price, yet I'm responsible for five men with intellectual disabilities and behavioural issues during sleepover shifts," said Harding.
The unions have always argued that sleepover shifts are "work" as defined in the Minimum Wage Act and the Employment Court has agreed, ruling in 2009 that being required to stay on the employer's premises throughout the night to support people with intellectual disabilities was work and should attract the adult minimum wage.
The court described responsibilities on a sleepover shift as
"weighty" and "critical to the business of the employer".