Maria Jikijela used to have to drive all about the city for work.
She worked for nine years as a home carer, which meant making stops in different neighbourhoods – sometimes as many as seven a day.
She liked the work, she said. But it was the hours of travel, for which she’d get as little as 30 cents a kilometre for fuel, that made the job difficult.
“From travelling here to there, no, there’s no pay at all,” she says. And the 30 cents per hour “was not enough”.
Jikijela is one of a group of care workers setting up a new social enterprise that aims, among other things, to solve the issue of unpaid travel time for their employees – with a simple idea.
Right now, there are two cohorts of home-help workers, says Paddy Cole, a union worker with SIPTU: those in Dublin, and those elsewhere.
Outside of Dublin, home carers are generally HSE employees. Those in Dublin tend to be employed by private companies, he says. That means a difference in pay for travel time.
Others say the same. “Working conditions in general vary significantly between private home care workers and HSE employed workers,” says Catherine Cox, head of communications at Family Carers Ireland, by email.
In general, privately employed home-care workers do not get paid for travel time, she says. “This is mainly due to the fact that HSE-funded home care packages, which are subcontracted out to private companies, do not include travel time pay.”
When the HSE subcontracts work to private companies through tenders, it won’t cover travel allowances, says Joseph Musgrave, chief executive of Home and Community Care Ireland, a representative association for managed home care providers.
If a company’s cost of care is €20 per hour, plus travel allowances, “the HSE say you can only tender at €20 … [T]hey won’t pay travel allowances, and they won’t allow you to incorporate travel allowances into the cost of care,” he said.
“That’s one of the big things I’m trying to change,” he says. “I welcome any attempt to address this, the issue of travel allowances.”
The HSE hasn’t responded yet to queries sent on Monday about this.
During her nine years as a home carer, it would take usually Jikijela between 20 and 35 minutes to travel between clients, she says.
With seven clients a day? That could mean three hours in unpaid, or low-paid travel time.
In her experience, companies might pay around 30 cents per kilometre for fuel. But not her hourly wage, which ranged from €8 to €12.50.
She’d worked in different jobs before she moved to Ireland. In South Africa, she was a secondary school teacher, then a technician repairing flat-screen televisions.
She moved to Dublin from Cape Town in 2006 and was ready for a change, she says. So she trained as a health-care assistant and got a FETAC level 5 qualification in health care and services. Now she works in a hospital.
But she hasn’t forgotten those who work in home care. Along with six other women from outside of Ireland, she’s helping to set up a new social enterprise with the Migrants Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI).
“We’ve been working with domestic and home-care workers since 2003, campaigning for visibility, rights, and better terms and conditions,” says Aoife Smith, the centre’s social-enterprise and care coordinator.
Smith says that while there’s been some progress, working conditions for home-care workers “are still really bad”.
So they’ve come up with a model social enterprise that could compete with the main companies out there – and also tackle the problem of unpaid travel time, says Smith. All profits would be invested back into training.
It’s a simple idea: to mitigate against unnecessary travel time, a small team of workers would be based in a particular area and attend to clients there. They’d be paid for all the hours they worked.
“From doing interviews and surveys, we realised the current model of home care provision wasn’t serving families or people, and it wasn’t meeting the needs of workers,” Smith said.
“It’s a huge profit sector. Home-care companies have a monopoly over the sector,” she says.
At last estimate, 10 years ago, the sector was valued at over €340 million and it’s only grown, she says. A quarter of the market are paying for private care.
Smith and her team are looking to trial the project in Dalkey.
Part of the idea is also what Smith calls an “onion model”, where a person’s care plan would include their whole network – their family, their friends, their GP, their hairdresser – in order to help them to continue living at home. “People don’t want to be forced into nursing home care,” she says.
“It’s a completely different approach to what’s there at the moment. People signed up for the service there on the day,” she says.
The full launch is a while off, probably in 2020, says Smith. But the company will hopefully be set up by the end of the month.
Jikijela says the MRCI project focuses on health and safety, keeping care workers in the same general location, and good working conditions for staff, including breaks, sick leave, and holiday time.
Workers in an area should this year be able to build up relationships with their clients too, she says.
Smith says it’s crucial that home care work isn’t undervalued and that people are cared for in a dignified manner. “And workers should have decent working conditions for providing that work.”