It’s been over two years in the making, and the story continues to be told today.
On Wednesday 30 March 2022, we loaded onto buses bound for our nation’s capital to hold a rally and lobby politicians to change aged care and fix wages for aged care workers. Members from across our aged care communities came in strength to come together, share stories, and make noise on the lawns of Parliament House.
Standing there that day were some of the most determined and dedicated people you will ever see. Not politicians, but aged care workers – the PCAs, the CSEs, the chefs, the cleaners. All taking part in a national conversation led by their Union to lift aged care pay by 25% across the board and ensure proper care for older Australians.
“Any politician who won’t commit to higher wages should eyeball the workforce and explain why they don’t deserve to earn more than $22 an hour … Aged-care funding is a vote changer at this election.” – HSU National President Gerard Hayes
The air was electric with the collective energy of the Aged Care workforce that day. You could feel their passion to their work, their dedication to the elderly Australians they care for. But you could feel frustration and anger too.
The agenda was full. Lloyd Williams, HSU National Secretary, started by acknowledging the traditional owners, and then acknowledged each and every aged care worker in the country and the difference they make to elderly Australians’ lives. He spoke of the disappointment from the Federal Budget delivered the night before, with no additional investment in aged care wages. He welcomed Aged Care and Disability Secretary Lauren Hutchins to the stage.
Lauren recalled stories that are all too familiar: a member working three jobs just to make ends meet; another going without food so her children can eat. To raucous cheers, whoops, and bongos, she declared that in these uncertain times, there is one thing for certain – we are coming after this government.
Before handing over to Clare O’Neill MP, the Shadow Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Lauren called on parliament to support our Work Value Case or face the certain consequences of a sector in crisis. Raising her arms to the crowd, everyone happily acceded to her request to make enough noise so that the politicians inside could hear us.
Ms O’Neill recited an unfortunate litany - the current government has received 21 reports telling them some version of ‘aged care is in crisis’, all before the Royal Commission into Aged Care. She also acknowledged that there is no aged care without aged carers, and that the federal budget, in spite of the mountains of available information, offered nothing in its budget to fix the endemic issues in aged care.
Star HSU member Michelle Beliaiev spoke movingly and articulately about the government’s failures in aged care. Warm applause and bongo drums welcomed her on stage. Michelle’s impassioned insight was on display again as she called for action, and recounted how the neglect of resident’s dignity and respect was not the fault of the workers, but the fault of understaffing, and ultimately the government.
The mic was then given to another of the HSU’s incredible aged care members, Charlotte Crawford. She shared a heartbreaking personal account of what it really means when you live and work in a broken system. She called the government out for refusing to take action when it’s well within their power to do so, saying they must accept sole responsibility for the systemic neglect and mistreatment of Australia’s elderly citizens, often frail and vulnerable. The government was also called out for being for keeping hard working and tax paying Australians that chose to work in aged care stretched, drained and desperate, barely surviving, living their life on the poverty line.
The crowd broke into spontaneous chants of “aged care, make it fair!”
We all know that the government needs to address the discouraged, downtrodden and largely female workforce, that it needs to do this by supporting it. Leadership is needed now more than ever. Not from within – we know we have more than enough driven, passionate and intelligent people who are part of HSU that know what needs to change – but we need it from those who make the rules, those who run the aged care centres, those who run the country.
Change the Government to Change Aged Care
On Tuesday 26 April, the first hearings for the HSU’s historic Work Value Case were held in the Fair Work Commission. We’re seeking a 25% increase across the board, no matter where you work in aged care. There will never be another moment like this – this is our chance to fix Aged Care once and for all, to make sure aged care workers aren’t living in poverty, working 2 or 3 jobs in desperately poor conditions while residents endure neglect.
But – we have to change the government first. Only one of the major parties that can form government this next election has committed to fund improved wages for aged care workers once the Fair Work Commission has made a ruling – and that’s the Labor Party. The Morrison LNP Government has had countless opportunities to address aged care wages and staffing levels. They chose not to listen.
There is a deserved ending to this saga on the horizon. We can see real glimmers of hope that circumstances will actually change this time, that the crisis in aged care will finally be extinguished by recognising the true value of aged care workers. At the time of writing, the Work Value Case that HSU launched in the Fair Work Commission is officially underway, as the Commission hears the statements and testimonies we collected from people with various duties and responsibilities across the aged care sector, all with years or decades of first-hand experience and a clear awareness of what needs to change.
Your support, advocacy, and passion in helping us agitate for change has meant that aged care - and wage justice for those who work in the sector - is a genuine election issue. Now let’s change the government to change aged care.