European Commission responds on sleepovers

THE EUROPEAN Commission has said it will seek information from Irish health authorities as the first step in assessing IMPACT’s claim that excessive ‘sleepover’ duties in residential care facilities breach EU and Irish working time legislation.

The union says staff who work with children, homeless people and people with disabilities are routinely expected to work 63-hour weeks when the legal maximum is 48 hours. It also says employers are breaching EU laws by paying a ‘sleepover’ allowance worth less than the statutory minimum wage.

IMPACT says management is flouting the EU working time directive and various European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings.

Union organiser Una Faulkner, who has helped organise regional meetings for the staff concerned, says the issue centres on the substantial hours that workers spend on-call while they are in-situ at residential facilities over night.

“So-called sleepovers are part of the working week for residential care staff but employers don’t treat them as working time for pay purposes, or when they’re calculating the time that can be legally worked. This means that staff are expected to work excessive hours while being paid well below the statutory minimum wage,” she said.

The union wants staff to work a maximum of one ‘sleepover’ a week on average. “This should be worked as part of the 39 hours set out in their contracts. Any work beyond 39 hours, including so-called ‘sleepovers,’ should be paid as overtime,” said Una.

She said this would improve the management of time and resources because staff would not find themselves pushed beyond the legal limits. “Ultimately, these measures would also improve the quality and level of care.”