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Campaign launched against employer which refuses to pay careworkers minimum wage

Low paid staff have very bad working conditions here - zero hours contracts, no travel time paid - while boss has luxury boats and cars:

UNISON has launched a campaign against Hampshire and Dorset-based 'Scrooge employer' Apex Care, which is refusing to pay the national minimum wage.

The company has also imposed punitive charges and sanctions on its hardworking, low-paid female staff who are delivering vital care to some of the most vulnerable in the community.

Apex Companions Ltd (trading as Apex Care) has a contract with Hampshire County Council to provide domiciliary care in a number of towns and districts across the county.

UNISON regional organiser Peter Terry said: "This company is funded by Hampshire taxpayers. When I met with its managing director Malcolm Patrick last month, he seemed wholly unconcerned that his staff were being paid less than the minimum wage - he claimed he couldn't afford it!

"But he can afford his luxury boats and new cars - no doubt paid for from his business Apex Care, a business that is funded by and profits from the public sector."

Staff in Apex Care's Winchester domiciliary care team are all on zero-hours contracts and do not receive any pay for time spent working for the employer other than for 'contact time', they are not paid for travel between appointments.

This brings their hourly rate well below the minimum wage. Although this unlawful practice has been brought to its attention by UNISON, Apex Care is continuing to refuse to pay its staff for any time between homecare visits, resulting in staff receiving as little as £3.50 per hour for a morning shift of more than five hours.

The national minimum wage is currently £6.31 for staff who are 21 or more years of age.

In April this year, the employer introduced a new scheme for paying these zero-hours staff where they are paid only by the minute - although contracts state that they are paid according to the agreed rotas, which are by the quarter hour.

The employer also levies punitive, sky-high charges on employees - such as a £7 charge for a £20 advance to buy petrol for a company-provided vehicle. These charges for a loan of just £20 for a period of one week until payday equates to an annual percentage rate of more than 17,000%.

The work that Apex Care staff at Winchester undertake for the county council can't be undertaken without a vehicle. Very few staff on or below the minimum wage can afford to own their own car, so Apex's answer to this is to lease vehicles to their low-paid staff so that they can do their work.

This lease costs staff £128 per month from their already meagre wages. One member of staff recently suffered a £500 excess charge directly deducted from her wages, without notice, for being involved in a no-fault accident, leaving her almost nothing to live on for the whole month ahead.

Apex also refuses to compensate staff for the actual mileage covered in their work and instead pays them only for the Googled distance between locations. Apex also refuses to pay its staff who use their own vehicles the recommended HMRC mileage rate of 45p per mile.

Staff at Winchester - 90% of whom are UNISON members - feel so strongly about all of these issues that they have told their union that they are prepared to be balloted on taking industrial action should the employer refuse make them a fair offer to settle their complaints.

UNISON has called on Apex to:

- pay staff no less than the national minimum wage during travel time and to issue new contracts that include a reasonable number of minimum guaranteed hours of work per week;
- have no more than one split shift per day per member of staff;
- ensure all staff receive itemised pay slips that clearly indicate all hours worked and the applicable rate of pay;
- introduce a fair and transparent pay structure;
- allow staff the option to remove Apex logos from lease vehicles and for staff to be given option to be released from existing leases without penalty.

More than a month after submitting these demands, Apex has failed to address any of these issues.

Mr Terry stated: "The ongoing refusal of Apex to pay their staff no less than the national minimum wage and Hampshire County Council's failure to ensure Apex abides by the law is disgraceful."

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