Over two years since the home and community support services (HCSS) sector and unions reached agreement with the Government over the In-Between Travel Time Settlement, the second part of the settlement – moving to a regularised workforce – is finally taking shape. But is it enough to sustain an already stretched sector? asks JUDE BARBACK.

In September 2014, the HCSS sector, unions and the Government negotiated a two-part settlement, chiefly to address the national minimum travel payments for community support workers. The unions agreed to forgo six years of backpay on travel time on the basis that the workforce would be regularised – which essentially means guaranteed hours and workloads, and workers paid by wages based on the required level of training of the worker, with that training consistent with the service needs of the population.

The first part of the settlement was addressed through the legislation passed last year allowing for a standard minimum payment to workers for travel between clients.

However, the HCSS sector was left frustrated with the Government’s long delay in addressing the second part of the settlement, despite an independent body led by the Director General of Health reviewing the sector and reporting back to the Ministry of Health in August 2015.

It wasn’t until October 2016 that the Ministry, district health boards, home support providers and unions reached an agreement on guaranteed hours for support workers, meaning that if a client cancels a session, and the support worker cannot be found work elsewhere, they will be paid for the time. Implementation of guaranteed hours began in April this year.

Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman reported yesterday that implementation was going well.

“It will help give greater stability for around 24,000 care and support workers across the country and is expected to have additional benefits including reducing high staff turnover rates,” he says.

He referenced the Government’s investment of $150 million over four years into the sector as part of the In Between Travel Time Settlement. This is in addition to the recent pay equity settlement that will also benefit the HCSS workforce.

However, Home and Community Association chief executive Julie Haggie says ensuring a skilled workforce that can meet client need means more than addressing these issues of travel time and pay equity. She says financial sustainability is the burning issue for employers.

“The number of people being supported at home is growing, but our sector has suffered from very low levels of funding for service delivery over many years. This has made the provision of home support unsustainable under some contracts and marginal in most,” says Haggie.

“If the potential of our workforce is to be released, then structural funding change is needed.”

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