The Albanese government will pump billions of dollars into boosting the pay packets of aged- care employees in coming years as it looks to stop workers fleeing the beleaguered sector and shore up the vast future workforce needed to care for the nation’s growing grey population.
An increase to the minimum pay for hundreds of thousands of aged-care workers will also recognise the increasing demands of their job as those in their care become increasingly frail, and also help redress the nation’s gender pay gap, the government argues in its submission to the Fair Work Commission’s aged-care wage case.
Unions have applied to the FWC for a minimum 25 per cent pay increase for aged-care workers, some of whom earn just $23 an hour, but the government didn’t nominate a percentage increase in its submission lodged late on Monday, just before the deadline.
Instead it said it “supports a minimum wage increase for aged-care workers” and has committed to funding any increase the commission awards.
“The commonwealth submits that the work value of aged-care workers is significantly higher than the modern awards currently reflect,” the submission says.
Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke said aged-care workers deserved more.
“Aged-care work is hard work. The pandemic made it even harder,” Mr Burke said. “There is no doubt their work is undervalued. We need to change that.”
“We don’t know where the Fair Work Commission will land (but) we’ve made clear that wherever they land we’ll make sure it’s funded,” he said.
Unions have not costed the specific claim in the submission, but Health Services Union national president Gerard Hayes said the sector needs $20bn in additional funding over the next four years to attract and retain a workforce to meet the needs of older Australians.
“We’ve modelled the 25 per cent increase, plus 59,000 additional staff needed to address resourcing of the sector, and 90 minutes of extra care per person per day to meet older people’s care requirements, and it works out at $20bn over four years,” Mr Hayes said.
The government’s submission to the FWC’s Work Value Case for the Aged Care Industry notes there are about 360,000 workers currently in aged care, including 270,000 in direct-care roles. About 20 per cent are nurses.
Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie says workers in the aged care sector are “well and truly” due for a pay rise.
The Committee for Economic Development of Australia said in June that it anticipated a shortfall of up to 35,000 aged-care workers a year for the next decade, driven by increasing demand and workers leaving the industry.
As part of its election commitments, the Albanese government has promised to implement a number of changes recommended by the aged-care royal commission in its final report published in February last year, including mandating minimum minutes of care per aged- care resident, and 24/7 nurses on duty in nursing homes.
Aged-care Minister Anika Wells said it was clear more staff were needed in aged care.
“A pay rise is the start of ensuring workers are rewarded for the crucial roles they play,” Ms Wells said.
The government’s submission argues an aged-care wage rise is needed to help deliver a workforce to cope with the stresses of the job and increasing future demand from an ageing population.
“The Commonwealth … recognises the need to ensure that the wages and conditions of the aged-care sector support the attraction and retention of sufficient workers to meet the expected growth in demand for aged-care services over the next 30 years,” it says.
The submission also acknowledges the gendered nature of aged-care work. “The undervaluation of caring work in the aged-care sector has, in part, been driven by gender-based assumptions about the work value of that work.”
Both unions and aged-care providers welcomed the government’s submission.
“A pay rise alongside increased care time for aged-care residents and increased aged- care worker numbers are promised federal government reforms that offer aged-care workers hope after years of neglect,” United Workers Union aged-care director Carolyn Smith said.
Aged and Community Care Providers Association interim chief executive Paul Sadler said providers were pleased the government had recommitted to fully funding the outcome of the case.
“We are also pleased the government supports a staged implementation of any wage increase which would be determined by the Fair Work Commission consulting with the parties to the case,” Mr Sadler said.