Illawarra aged care workers, employers welcome 15 per cent wage bump

  • Published November 8, 2022

Illawarra Mercury, 7 November 2022

For Illawarra aged care worker Shellee Gibson, Fridays are always tough but last Friday was particularly draining.

Ms Gibson, who works in a specialist dementia ward caring for about 80 residents, was joined by only one other care worker and two nurses.

That day, in addition to her regular duties, Ms Gibson was helping out in the kitchen.

"That was the worst day ever."

Being on her feet all day, Ms Gibson did not notice until later a text message from her union, the Health Services Union where she is a delegate, that aged care workers such as her had won a 15 per cent wage increase.

The interim decision of the Fair Work Commission dropped on Friday afternoon, and is the first in a long running work value case being considered by the Commission.

Unions and employers had argued aged care workers, including care staff and nurses, deserved a 25 per cent pay increase, bringing them into line with staff at hospitals and in the disabilities sector who perform essential synonymous tasks.

Despite this, Ms Gibson said 15 per cent was "fantastic".

"We've been fighting for 25 [per cent] but still, it's a great start."

CEO of Warrigal, Mark Sewell echoed this assessment.

"15 per cent for all aged care nurses and carers is a great start, but it's only half the story," he said.

Significantly, other staff at aged care centres such as cleaners, cooks and allied health will not be covered by the decision, something that Ms Gibson said was a "cop out".

"We all work together. If we can't get the food out on time, they can't get the tablets on time. The food pretty much runs the whole place."

While the interim decision sets parameters for an upcoming wage rise, Illawarra workers may have to wait to see a bump in their pay packets. Member for Whitlam Stephen Jones said a wage rise by Christmas would be "tight".

"It depends on what the Fair Work Commission does up for the course of the next few weeks," he said.

In its decision, the Fair Work Commission found a 15 per cent rise was "plainly justified" based on the value of the work performed by aged care staff. The Commission also noted that this 15 per cent rise would not rule out a further increase in a future decision for aged care workers and nurses, as well as support staff.

The Commission also found that work in feminised industries such as the care sector had been historically undervalued and the undervaluation is likely based on the gender of those working in the sector.

Mr Jones said this would spur further re-evaluations of the value of work largely performed by women.
"This decision puts a spotlight on that," Mr Jones said.

An eventual pay increase will be funded by the federal government, with the Albanese government committed to fully funding any final decision by the Fair Work Commission. For workers, a 15 per cent increase equates to about seven dollars per hour, Mr Sewell said, but how exactly the money will flow through the sector remains to be determined.

With the aged care sector shedding staff to higher-paid alternatives, Mr Sewell said the current decision meant there was further to go.

"This is about half way towards disability service rates, and about three quarters of the way towards hospital rates for nurses."

Ms Gibson said she is seeing this first hand.

"The people that have been fighting for [the pay rise], probably won't even see it because they're getting out of the industry because it's too broken, which is sad. But we've got to keep fighting, what else can we do?"