Aged care sector facing shortfall of 35,000 workers, says report

Financial Review, 27 June 2022

Australia’s aged care sector is facing a shortage of 35,000 workers and risks not being able to meet basic standards of care, a new report warns.

The shortage has more than doubled in less than a year due to low migration levels and increased workforce attrition, according to a report by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia released on Tuesday.

“If workforce shortages at this level continue, we will not have enough workers to meet the basic standards of care recommended by the [aged care] royal commission,” CEDA senior economist Cassandra Winzar said.

Labor has promised a boost to home care packages and will require nursing homes to have a registered nurse on site 24 hours a day from July next year. A new mandate will require that all residents receive an average of 215 minutes of care a day, as recommended by the royal commission.

The government has also deployed more registered nurses and personal-care workers to COVID-19-affected facilities, part of a surge of workforce provisions. More than 1000 shifts a week are being covered under the move.

But the aged care sector is losing roughly 65,000 workers annually, according to the CEDA report, with a worst-case scenario of the overall shortfall spiralling out to more than 110,000 by 2030.

CEDA recommended increasing award wages, recruiting personal-care workers directly by adding them to the temporary or permanent skilled-migration lists, and developing low-cost retraining options for those returning to the industry.

“Given the immediate nature of the workforce challenge, priority must be given to actions that will boost the workforce in the short term, while continuing to improve longer-term workforce outcomes,” Ms Winzar said.

“Addressing pay and migration should be the immediate priorities. However, we also need to look at improving training options, career pathways and investing in new technologies to improve productivity.

Fair Work timetable

“By pulling all the available levers we can start to make progress
on building the caring workforce that Australia needs to provide the high level of care we all expect for ourselves and our families.”

The Fair Work Commission earlier this month agreed to a request from the Albanese government to change the timetable for its case considering aged care workers’ pay, as Labor warns of an exodus of staff from the sector.

Unions representing nurses, carers, cooks and others in the aged care system are pushing for a 25 per cent pay rise. Labor has not nominated a specific figure.

Health Services Union national president Gerard Hayes said while he believed CEDA’s estimate of a 35,000 worker shortage was a “conservative figure”, he agreed that lifting wages and changing the social perception of the aged care sector was crucial.

“It’s all about attraction and retention,” Mr Hayes told The Australian Financial Review.

“The shortfall is pushing even more people away. They’re exhausted, and they see no light at the end of the tunnel, with jobs elsewhere offering more money and less stress.

“A 100,000 shortfall would be totally out of control. I’d hate to even think about going into aged care if that’s the way it got. That’s not the way you want to end your life.”

United Workers Union aged care director Carolyn Smith said any migration scheme aimed at plugging the aged care shortfall had to be combined improved wages and conditions.

“Providers will immediately say ‘we need more migration’, but you can’t have this if you don’t fix the jobs,” she said.

“Workers are telling us again and again they are completely stretched to the limit.”