SOS Fined $29K For Under-paying Nurses

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NSWNA wins $29K in fines and backpay for underpaid community health nurses.

SOS Nursing and Home Care Service in Tamworth was fined $29,000 last month, for contravening its collective workplace agreement. The Federal Magistrates Court ordered SOS, and its managing director Rosemary Hyles, to pay the NSWNA a total of $29,000 in fines when they unilaterally reduced the pay rate of one of their New England nurses and failed to pay the nurse for time spent travelling between clients.

They were also ordered to pay the nurse $8,373.06 in compensatory damages.

The NSWNA brought the latest case against SOS in April 2010, on behalf of a now retired RN, after receiving a number of complaints from community health members in the New England region. Much of their work is for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and involves travelling in their own cars to visit clients in their homes. Among the complaints was that they were not being paid for travelling time, only the hourly pay for time spent with the client.

In addition, the company cut the pay rate in December 2009, after the government’s fairness test returned a lower rate of pay than the company had awarded to staff. The fairness test is the bare minimum an employer can pay a nurse.

This was not the first time the NSWNA and its members had taken action against SOS over working arrangements. In a previous dispute, in 2005, the courts found SOS had underpaid another nurse. Then in 2009, the Federal Court decided against SOS and found that travel time had to be paid to nurses under the previous Award.

‘Because the employer is a repeat offender, we decided to seek fines against it as well as compensation for our underpaid member,’ said NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes. ‘It is appropriate that the Federal Magistrates Court has taken such a strong stand in this case and it should send a clear message to SOS and other employers that you cannot breach workplace agreements without paying a penalty.

‘When the government’s fairness test came back, it assumed nurses were being paid travel time, but they weren’t. And the travel time component is pretty close to 23% of some nurses’ pay. So members were being paid 23% less than the bare minimum an employer is supposed to pay a nurse.

‘SOS does a lot of Veterans’ Affairs work and the nurses who do this excellent work should be paid properly and fully. The idea that a nurse should not be paid for time spent travelling between clients is ridiculous and hopefully SOS and Ms Hyles have learnt their lesson,’ said Brett.

The NSWNA plans to push for the implementation of the court’s ruling for the more than 100 staff at SOS New England and Central Coast to ensure they receive back pay for travel time and underpayment of wages.

At the time of printing, SOS had lodged an appeal against the pay cut decision. However, the travel time issue was not being appealed.