Judge weighs matrons' claims

By Anna Ferrick

Final submissions were heard yesterday in relation to the past and present matrons of Iona College and Woodford House, who have brought legal action against their employers.

This week the court has heard from all 11 matrons bringing the case, and the principals of both schools.

House matrons from boarding houses at the schools are fighting to be paid the minimum wage for sleepovers they were required to work as part of their roles. Some of the matrons claim they worked up to 140 hours fortnightly, including 40 to 60 hours of sleepovers, but were paid for only a standard 80-hour fortnight.

The lawyer for the defendants, Richard Harrison, said weight could be placed on the diaries that were filled in by the house matrons as these gave an indication of what was "really happening".

He said the diaries had been completed in some detail and captured all sorts of things that may have happened during the hours of 11pm and 6.30am, when the matrons were completing sleepovers.

He said the diaries gave an idea of a "settled" school with few incidents.

Mr Harrison also said that in contrast to some of the plaintiffs' evidence, they were "tight, hierarchal" schools.

"You don't have the sorts of behaviour that have been described and turn out the students that these schools do."

Chief Judge Graeme Colgan questioned whether a settled school could be achieved in isolation: "Is it not the result of low level but active input to bring that about?"

Peter Cranney, lawyer for the plaintiffs, said all matrons needed to be engaged and available during sleepovers. He said there were obvious constraints on their freedoms while carrying out a sleepover, including being able to be woken for work if needed, being in the building at all times, not disturbing the girls with noisy activities and not consuming alcohol or drugs.

"Evidence established these women cared deeply for and carefully monitored the girls. They were aware of bereavements and illnesses and of those who may be vulnerable and need care. They provided this care."

Mr Cranney also said it was unsurprising the matrons did not escalate every issue by recording it in the diaries.

He said they were the sole responsible adults in charge of the boarding students and that the responsibility was significant.

"It is one of the most responsible jobs a human being could be entrusted with."

Mr Cranney said the case was similar in many ways to Phil Dickson vs IHC, which resulted in IHC paying 3700 sleepover workers at the minimum wage as of Christmas 2012.

Judge Colgan has reserved his judgment to consider all the evidence before him.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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