The crisis in staffing in aged care needs to be addressed for the long term and include higher wages for workers, Director of RMIT’s Centre for People, Organisation Distinguished Professor Sara Charlesworth has explained.
“This one-off bonus payment just doesn’t cut it. We know there is a crisis in staffing in aged care.
“Providers are calling for workers to be paid higher wages not temporary stop gap payments.
“This is too little too late and we need the federal government to commit to an ongoing wage increase for frontline aged care workers.
Aged care workers need urgent pay rate reforms
“The recent royal commission recommended that the government, providers and unions get together to address the low wages and poor conditions of workers as these link directly to the quality of aged care.
“We need to properly pay workers and need the providers, the unions and the Government to come together and work this out.
“A serious announcement would have been: ‘Yes we are going to support the union claim for a $5-an-hour increase, which is also supported by the provider peaks.’
“Without government support, the Fair Work Commission may be reluctant to award this wage increase.
“Workers are paid barely above the national minimum wage and have continued to leave the sector, particularly in homecare.
“Data released by the government this year showed a very high attrition rate of 35% of homecare workers in the homecare packages program.
“We need additional funds for higher wages, but we also need increased transparency because at the moment there is no transparency in what providers do with the funding they receive, as highlighted by the royal commission.
“The federal government keeps pretending it just funds aged care with the care provided and the wages and conditions of workers are up to providers. But the royal commission found the federal government is responsible for it.
“Aged care is a public good like education, so you can’t just say it’s up to the providers.
Longer contracts and hours of work must be introduced
“We also need to ensure workers have enough hours of work. The way the industry employs workers is to keep them on short term contracts.
“People are offered very short hours so there is lots of multiple job holdings and underemployment and many workers are trying to cobble several jobs together.
“There is also a lack of clarity about how these bonus payments will work. If you work less than 20 hours, you are eligible to just half the payment. If you work less than 8 hours for an employer, you are not eligible at all. But if you work 15 hours in one place and 10 hours at another, could you claim a half payment from both employers?
“In British Columbia in Canada, the role low wages play in multiple site working, revealed during COVID, has been addressed by a commitment to full-time and long hour part-time secure jobs in nursing homes there – not just during COVID but on an ongoing basis.
Low waged are harming aged care workers and the elderly
“The acceptance by the Australian Government of such low wages in aged care is an insult to the workers and the older Australians who are using aged care services.
“It’s like saying: ‘Well actually, you’re not worth it. We’re going to keep you comfortable until you die, but we’re not going to do anything to enhance your wellbeing.’
“Older people have lots of potential for increased wellbeing and enjoyment of life. To do that they need enough trained workers who can afford to stay in their jobs with enough time to spend with them.”
Story: Kate Milkins