With more and more Australians expressing their wish to age at home and to remain in their homes for as long as possible, the quality of the home care services we are building in this country are of the utmost importance.
The foundation of any home care service is its staff, the workers on the ground, who travel from home to home caring for older Australians and people who need help to continue living independently.
It is a simple fact that if we don’t have an experienced and well-trained home care workforce, who is happy in their work and feels supported in their role, then we can never have a successful home care system.
Here at HelloCare, we have become aware of a significant problem facing home care workers that is causing dissatisfaction: the matter of who pays for their travel time.
Many home care workers aren’t compensated for their travel time, leading them not only to feel disgruntled, but also leading some to refuse jobs that require significant travel.
Other home care workers are paid between 65 cents to 81 cents per kilometre of travel. While others are paid their normal hourly work rate for travel time.
Even those who are reimbursed for their travel time say it often isn’t enough. We know of home care workers who ration their travel on the weekend to make sure they have enough petrol in their tank to see home care clients during the week.
Jacki Attridge, Head of Home & Community Care Operations Uniting NSW/ACT, told HelloCare Uniting pays home care workers for their travel time.
“There is no difference for a worker in terms of how they are paid, be it client facing or in between clients. It’s all paid the same. We also reimburse for any kilometres that a support worker travels if they are in their own vehicle as well,” she said.
It’s an entitlement for the worker, but philosophically it makes sense too, she said.
“Regardless of whether a support worker is facing a client or travelling between clients, it’s still work they are doing on our behalf.”
Uniting also works hard to minimise travel time for its home care staff.
“A support worker has so little control over what their day will look like. I think it’s incumbent on us to do all we can to fill up their rosters and make their runs as efficient as we can in terms of minimising the time they’re spending not supporting clients.”
Many home care workers have irregular income based on how many clients they see. But Uniting’s approach of paying for all hours worked gives staff greater certainty about their take-home pay.
“It gives them a far greater sense of security around what their pay is likely to look like,” Ms Attridge said.
Gerard Hayes, NSW/ACT/QLD secretary of the Health Services Union, told HelloCare that employees who are required by their employer to use their motor vehicle in the course of their work should be reimbursed at the rate of 80 cents per kilometre.
“It’s our view that the nature of home care work means that employees should be paid the allowance for all travel conducted from the time they leave home until the time they return there,” he said.
This recommendation is consistent with the ATO’s ruling on ‘itinerate work’, which says you can claim as a tax deduction the cost of travelling if you have “shifting places of employment – you regularly work at more than one site each day before returning home”.
To those who say home care workers are not paid for their travel time because they receive higher hourly rates of pay, Mr Hayes says workers shouldn’t have to choose between the two.
“The workforce should not have to choose between conditions and decent rates of pay, they should have both,” he said.
Home care workers using employment platforms such as Mable can charge for travel time.
A Mable spokesperson told HelloCare that people who use their platform are in charge of setting their own rates and can choose the locations they work in order to minimise travel time.
“Under this model … hourly rates can, and often do, take into account any travel time. They also have the opportunity to change these rates at any time in discussion with their client,” the spokesperson said.
In a competitive market where clients can compare prices and choose the cheapest option, home care workers may be tempted not to charge for travel time.
Uniting has been looking at how to make its home care teams more efficient, and aims to have small “cluster” teams that work together in small geographic areas of the community as much as possible in order to minimise travel time.
“We work really hard … to minimise travel as much as we can,” Ms Attridge said.
The cost of travel is an issue for Uniting as much as it is for the home care worker, Ms Attridge adding, “It’s incumbent on [Uniting] to find solutions to that.”
“It’s as good for us to spend less time on the road as it is for them,” she said.