Reading up on the legislation regarding working hours and the national minimum wage (NMW) I discovered that, if you work extra hours unpaid and that takes your average wage below the NMW limit, your employer is breaking the law.

Wage packet
“Working on call for a small set fee could be taking you under the national minimum wage.”

That said, and with the NMW only recently reaching £6.70 for over-21s, I can imagine there are situations where working on call for a small set fee is taking you under this rate.

I used to work 12 hour night shifts for a set fee of about £28, making my rate £2.33 per hour – far below the NMW. With my salary at the time I could have added to the 8.5 hour working day either side of this night shift and still get a figure less than £6.08p/h.

But this isn’t just an issue for nurses. When training I was discussing the option of going to vet school but decided that, for the top salary in London of about £50k, it wasn’t worth the investment of £100k+ (I already had a degree) to become a veterinary surgeon.

A vet I spoke with said they had worked out that, with all the on call hours they did (one night a week and a number of weekends, from Friday night to Monday morning), they were only earning about £6 an hour. Plus, even if they weren’t called in, they still couldn’t be more than 30 minutes from the practice or plan anything in case the telephone rang.

So, if they worked a 40 hour week, did one 12 hour night on call per week and one full weekend in a five-week month to earn the holy grail of £50k (earning over NMW), they would still earn less than a locum nurse could expect per hour in London (around £13-15).

This doesn’t lend itself to a great work/life balance, either. In London we need to consider higher living costs – and some sources claim the real London living wage is above the £9.15p/h suggested.

It’s hard to explain this to clients who think vets are all “money grabbers”. We all know we work more hours than required to ensure patient care and safety. It’s why we are in the job. Yet the industry as a whole is still paid dramatically less than human counterparts, who aren’t seen as money grabbing as they never present us with a bill…

This, then, takes me back to last month’s question: should the NHS invoice patients to make them aware of the cost of treatment?

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