UNISON has this month lodged legal claims on behalf of members against Hampshire & Dorset homecare provider Apex Care.
Apex Care of Romsey provides home care under contract to Hampshire County Council as well as to Dorset County, Wiltshire County and Portsmouth City Councils and was exposed last year by UNISON as a “Scrooge employer” for their refusal to pay their zero-hours staff travel time between homecare visits, thereby falling foul of the National Minimum Wage regulations.
Since launching that campaign in December many of the zero-hours staff who spoke out publicly to criticise the company have been deliberately starved of work. The way in which Apex has treated our members has given some of them no option but to leave.
Despite Apex announcing their intention to pay for travel time, staff are still not being paid for any time between visits, including travel time. In many cases this brings the hourly rate of pay down to unlawful levels – often less than £5/hour and well below the National Minimum Wage.
Apex are also refusing to consider any back-pay for previous periods where staff have worked and not received the minimum wage or the rates in accordance with the company’s own stated policy prior to December 2013.
Apex has also served notice on its carers of the withdrawal of their lease cars. On such a low wage most carers cannot afford their own vehicles and will be unable to do their work without transport.
Since being exposed by UNISON Apex have also banned their staff from talking to the media or commenting on the company in any unfavourable way on social networking sites. The company has also introduced a policy whereby they can search individuals, their cars and possessions.
The legal claims, all of which supported by UNISON’s Head Office Legal Department in London, have been lodged at the Employment Tribunal on behalf of both current and former employees of Apex working from their Romsey, Portsmouth and Winchester (now closed) offices and include claims for:
- Failure to pay the National Minimum Wage ;
- Failure to pay holiday pay ;
- Unlawful deduction of wages ;
- Failure to provide itemised pay statements ;
- Detrimental treatment due to trade union membership or activity ; and
- Unfair constructive dismissal.
In addition, due to Apex’s deliberately running down their Winchester operations and refusing to give work to known Union members they perceive as “trouble makers” many clients have not received the care required. This has resulted in the company being reported to the CQC (Care Quality Commission) who are currently investing the matter.
Former Apex carer Petrina Hodges said:
“Company MD Malcolm Patrick was given every opportunity to comply with the law. Rather than doing so, he took the decision to exploit the vulnerability of zero hours workers and force out who he considered to be trouble makers through deliberately depriving them of work. He claims Apex pays for travel time – it doesn’t. He claims Apex paid its carers £7/hour – it didn’t. He refuses to make any offer whatsoever for the thousands of hours carers have worked for less than the minimum wage. I’m lucky, since leaving Apex I’ve started another job with a different care provider – one who employs its staff on contracted hours, pays for all travel time and respects and supports our right to belong to a trade union”.
Peter Terry, UNISON Regional Organiser added:
“Apex Care is publicly funded by Hampshire County Council who as far as I can see has done nothing to ensure they and other care providers comply with the law. We have it on good authority that the council was aware of these minimum wage breaches as far back as 2012.
“Unfortunately Hampshire County Council has refused to consult with us over the content of this and future contracts, despite repeated requests from this union. It seems to us that they are more interested in protecting the interests of their contractors than the elderly and most vulnerable in our communities and the low-paid women carers who care for them”.