FWC decision a first step, but case unfinished say stakeholders

  • Published November 11, 2022

Australian Ageing Agenda, 8 November 2022

"Moving in the right direction, but more to do,” is the initial reaction from Health Services Union national president Gerard Hayes to the Fair Work Commission’s interim offer of a 15 per cent pay rise for nurses and personal care workers under aged care awards.

Australia’s industrial empire handed down its aged care work value case decision late last Friday. However, the amount falls short of the 25 per cent called for by the HSU and other unions, and only direct care workers will be awarded the wage increase. Meaning those in lifestyle, cleaning, catering and other support services roles miss out, like they did with the controversial retention bonus.

Speaking to Australian Ageing Agenda, Mr Hayes said aged care must be viewed as a holistic industry. “It’s got a complementary workforce that doesn’t work in isolation. So to address direct care, and not other important factors of aged care, I don’t think it’s something that should be progressed along those lines. It should be all parties in aged care addressed.”

Citing the aged care workforce shortage, Mr Hayes said: “To be able to attract and retain people is going to be very important. It is very important that we do not have a workforce that becomes fragmented and leave.”

As for why the FWC made an interim ruling rather than a final decision, Mr Hayes told AAA: “I’m not clear as to why that’s been undertaken.”

However, he said he was mindful that the commission had indicated that the 15 per cent offer is a minimal position. “We’ll be working with our members over the coming weeks and, hopefully, in the next month or two, we’ll get to the point where we want to, which is the 25 per cent.”

Also speaking to AAA, Macquarie University’s Ageing and Aged Care Researchers Network chair Professor Denise Jepsen said she was disappointed in aspects of Friday’s decision.

“First, that the process has taken so long to even get this far, is outrageous to those of us who care about the sector and see these superhero carers at work every day. This case has been going on way too long. How much longer does the sector – already at crisis point – have to wait to see the outcome of this claim?”

Professor Jepsen told AAA she was “distressed” that the 15 per cent offer was below what had been asked for. “This interim wait and see if they deserve more feels offensive to me. We already know these workers deserve more. And they deserve more now – not later.”

Referring to the aged care workers left out of the interim deal – also including those working in administration and maintenance roles – Professor Jepsen said: “I agree with others that this is insulting.”

While welcoming the interim decision for frontline workers, CEO of peak body the Aged and Community Care Providers Association Tom Symondson also agreed that support staff deserved a pay increase “and we look forward to a further decision by the commission which addresses their pay,” he said in a statement.

“A better paid workforce means we can attract more workers into aged care and make our sector an employer of choice.”

The peak body representing Catholic aged care providers, Catholic Health Australia, echoed the comment. “Better wages and conditions are key to attracting and retaining workers, and to restoring dignity to the carers who do such important work for society,” said CHA aged care director Jason Kara in a statement.

“The commission has not yet decided on whether around 100,000 administration and support workers will also receive a pay rise, and if so, how much. These workers are critical to delivering quality aged care and deserve a pay rise.”

Mr Kara added: “CHA supports immediately passing increases on and delivering a much-needed boost to the workforce. We look forward to the government delivering on its promise to fully fund the wage increase.”

In a statement, Kasy Chambers, executive director of national network of Anglicare Church providers Anglicare Australia, called this “major unfinished business” from the royal commission.

“That’s why this decision is an important start for the sector – along with the government’s commitment to fund the increase … Our hope is that the commission will cement these increases with future decisions. We also look forward to decisions on indirect care workers who help keep the aged care sector afloat, like kitchen, laundry, recreation, and administrative staff,” Ms Chambers said.

Sarah McLelland, interim CEO of the Aged Care Workforce Industry Council, agreed that indirect care workers should also be included in the deal. “They are central to the provision of safe, person-centred care,” she said in a statement.

And although welcoming the 15 per cent pay rise for frontline staff, Ms McLelland said it’s not enough. “We keenly await the next announcement from the FWC to ensure workers are adequately recognised for the essential work they do.”

Meanwhile, aged care executives took to social media to respond to the FWC’s announcement.

Posting on Facebook, Mike Baird, CEO of dementia care provider HammondCare, noted the interim offer was not the end of the process but just the beginning, “there is much more work to do,” said Mr Baird. “HammondCare will be front and centre of future developments,” he added, “continuing to fight for a fair outcome for all aged care workers.”

Posting on Linkedin, Whiddon CEO Chris Mamarelis said: “While the Fair Work Commission’s decision last week acknowledged that aged care employees deserve improved remuneration, we are still left with more questions than answers.”

Mr Mamarelis wondered why, after more than a year of processing submissions and analysis, the commission needed more time for deliberation.

“This is a fully-funded pay increase that needs to flow through right now, renumerate aged care employees equitably and help attract people urgently to support and care for our elders. Why wasn’t a decision delivered immediately that included both care and non-care employees. Surely, the people who prepare meals, provide domestic support, maintain our homes and support the wellbeing and leisure needs of our residents deserve better.”