Historic aged care wage case to be handed down

Michael West Media, 15 March 2024

Aged care staff are set to learn whether they will receive a major pay rise as the Fair Work Commission prepares to hand down a landmark decision.

More than 100,000 indirect employees in the sector are expected to finally enjoy a wage boost after the Health Services Union (HSU) lodged an application for a 25 per cent across-the-board increase in 2020.

The commission awarded an interim 15 per cent pay rise to direct care employees at the end of 2022, with the industrial umpire saying this was plainly justified by work value reasons.

Since then, the union has continued to push for a comprehensive increase for all staff.

HSU National President Gerard Hayes said the interim decision had helped slow the number of people leaving the industry.

“A lot of people want to be in aged care and want to stay there but they just can’t afford it,” he told ABC News.

“The industry is (now) becoming more competitive with health which is really important if we are going to shore up the future for older Australians.”

Mr Hayes said aged care workers had been historically undervalued but were the lifeblood of the care economy.

“It is concerning that it reflects on how we view our older Australians,” he said.

“It has been a transition over a decade that has delivered an interim outcome but hopefully we will see an outcome about making aged care sustainable now and into the future.”

The federal government has, since it came to office, sought to support pay rises for minimum and award wage workers, fund increases for aged care staff and make it easier for parents to return to work when they want to.

Economists have also backed the push.

“In our view, the benefits of improving pay and conditions in undervalued, low paid, female-dominated care sectors – including better attraction and retention of workers – outweigh the costs of any marginal inflationary effect of a one-off bump in the wage price index,” ANZ’s Catherine Birch said in November.

Catholic Health Australia called on the government to fully fund the rise expected to come from Friday’s decision.

“We strongly support the claim to raise the wages of dedicated, compassionate and hardworking staff, especially as cost of living pressures mount,” said director Laura Haylen.

“The federal government must deliver on its commitment to fully fund these wage rises as soon as possible, including any leave entitlements. We believe that we can work together to ensure staff are paid as quickly as possible without diverting existing funds from quality care and support.”