Boarding staff battle for pay

By Anna Ferrick

Eleven current and former staff members from Iona College and Woodford House were in court yesterday fighting to be paid the minimum wage for sleepovers they claim were largely unpaid but were a requirement as part of their roles as supervisors in the boarding houses.

The four staff members from Iona were rostered fortnightly and were required to work weekends and sleepovers.

The plaintiffs claim they worked up to 140 hours, including 40 to 60 hours of sleepovers, a fortnight. They were paid for a standard 80 hours.

For a sleepover additional to the roster they were paid $25 a night.

The case comes on the heels of a similar one fought by Phil Dickson, who in 2007 began his legal battle with Idea Services, a subsidiary of IHC, to be paid the minimum wage for sleepovers he was required to carry out in his role as a carer of the disabled.

As of Christmas 2012, there were 3700 IHC sleepover workers across the country who were required to be paid the full minimum wage, roughly $117 a sleepover.

Peter Cranney, who was legal counsel for Mr Dickson, is also representing the plaintiffs in this case.

The legal argument of whether the sleepovers are considered work rests on three considerations. The constraints placed on the freedom of the employee, the nature and extent of the responsibilities and the benefit to the employer of having the employee perform the role.

Boarding supervisors at Iona College were expected to stay on site during sleepovers and were to attend to incidents in the night, the court heard yesterday. Sleepovers began at 11pm and ended at 7am.

Principal of Iona College Pauline Duthrie said there were "very limited" times when supervisors were disturbed in the night saying they mostly had an "uninterrupted sleep" during their sleepovers. She said the boarding supervisors dealt only with minor incidents.

Jan Colbert, one of the plaintiffs from Iona, said this was not the case.

"When I first started a lot of the alarm sensors were faulty. We once had two fire alarms in one night, we were having about four or five false alarms a week."

These incidents required Ms Colbert to get up and deactivate the alarms once confirming they were false.

She said there were other incidents of girls becoming unwell in the night, sleepwalking, feeling homesick, misbehaving and needing to be let in or out of the building for planned events between the designated sleep hours of 11pm and 7am.

She said it was up to the boarding manager at the time whether or not they were paid any extra for attending to incidents in the night.

"If she felt like it on the day she might pay us. I know there were two occasions when I didn't get paid and I felt I should have. The pay was very inconsistent at the time."

Some incidents were recorded in a diary but there were no written regulations in place for the recording of incidents in this manner.

Subsequently many incidents were only verbally passed on to the director of boarding at the time, said Ms Colbert.

A further witness, Kath Exeter, who was a matron at the school for seven years, said she frequently slept over on a Thursday night, which was her rostered day off.

She said these sleepovers amounted to nine hours a week she was not paid for.

She permanently resided on the school grounds and said she frequently attended incidents when not on duty.

Mr Cranney, lawyer for the plaintiffs, challenged Ms Duthrie on her statement that incidents in the night were limited and highlighted examples she had missed in her evidence.

He asked whether she had been careless in her compilation of incidents recorded when putting together her evidence.

Ms Duthrie said she admitted there had been some "oversights and omissions that are unintentional" in her record of incidents that had occurred when boarding supervisors were on duty.

Witnesses from Woodford House will be called in the coming days.

The case is being heard in the Employment Court at Hastings by Chief Judge Graeme Colgan, an employment specialist from Auckland.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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