Government asks to delay aged care pay rise it championed

Sydney Morning Herald, 16 December 2022

The Health Services Union has accused the federal government of failing the aged care workforce after the Commonwealth called for a 15 per cent pay rise to be phased in over 18 months.

The union’s national president Gerard Hayes, who spearheaded the workers’ push for a 25 per cent pay rise, accused Labor of acting like its Coalition predecessors after the government lodged a submission to the Fair Work Commission for the interim wage increase to be split into two parts.

“I don’t think it’s what Labor people stand for, I think it would be what [former Coalition aged care minister] Richard Colbeck and [Coalition health minister] Greg Hunt would stand for,” he said.

Delivering pay rises was central to Labor’s election strategy. The party backed the aged care wage case and invoking the plight of the largely female workforce in its mission to close the gender pay gap.

The royal commission into the sector called on the Commonwealth and providers to overhaul the historical underpayment of the feminised workforce.

The day after the industrial umpire awarded the interim 15 per cent pay rise to aged-care workers on November 4, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described the decision as a welcome first step in recognising “the heroes of the pandemic.”

A joint submission between multiple unions and aged-care providers lodged on Friday called for the government to fund the interim wage rise “in full as soon as possible.”

“This increase in pay rates is not to be phased in over time and instead should occur from the first full pay period on or after a single specific date,” the submission to the Fair Work Commission reads.
But the Commonwealth have submitted a plan to pay the increase over a 12-month period from July 1, 2023, with funding offered for an initial 10 per cent pay rise, and the remaining 5 per cent offered a year later.

“This timing will allow the Commonwealth to implement the proposed interim increase appropriately through its various aged care funding mechanisms,” reads the submission lodged late on Friday afternoon.

The submission argues it is not feasible to deliver the wage boost before July next year as the government doesn’t directly fund wages but rather subsidises aged-care placements.

Aged and Community Care Providers Association head Tom Symondson said the workforce should be able to expect the wage increase as soon as possible.

“We are experiencing a workforce crisis now and we need to be able to pass on pay rises to
our staff as soon as possible to recognise their incredible contribution and to give them the
confidence to remain in our sector,” he said.

Hayes said the government’s proposition would cause a “devastating delay” that would see the workforce crumble, adding the initial increase would be mostly consumed by inflation.

“Three quarters of aged care workers have already indicated they will quit aged care in the next six months unless there is a serious pay rise,” he said.

“What is the Federal Government’s plan to prevent a complete collapse? Send in the army, again?“

A spokesman for Aged Care Minister Annika Wells referred all questions to the Commonwealth’s submission.