As we mark the 1st Anniversary of the HSU’s Work Value Case for Aged Care workers, let’s look back on all the activity that’s taken place over the last year, what we’ve achieved so far and what comes next.
OUR HISTORIC CASE
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 12 months since HSU members united to take our case for a 25% increase to award wages to the Fair Work Commission. For decades the aged care workforce has toiled in some of the most challenging workplaces caring for the most vulnerable members of our community, while earning less than they would stacking shelves. On 12 November 2020, the line in the sand was drawn.
We stood united to demand the work of aged care be valued properly, and workers paid accordingly.
Our HSU Work Value Case draws on the evidence of members from across the country, from every job type, from workers with 6 months to 30 years of aged care experience. Their statements are at the heart of our case.
“I am proud to work in the service of the ageing. I believe that through my skill and commitment to them I can make a real and positive impact on those older Australians in our care. I also believe that I can make a difference.” Lindy
“If I am not there to keep an eye on what’s going on, who is going to speak up for the residents. I really feel that they need me and I can offer a lot to them. Every day I try and be bright and cheerful and make their lives better.” Helen
“Our job is so physically and mentally demanding and it has an impact on me. If we had higher wages, I would consider dropping down to working.” Sanu
“As the pay rate is low, I have had to take on extra work outside to supplement my wages for me to adequately support my family with ordinary day to day living expenses. My family has always had to keep to a strict budget. After paying the bills and mortgage, there is very little money remaining. We do not really go out for dinner nor do we go on holidays.” Alison
These are just a small part of some of the powerful statements made by members. Each statement details the skills and knowledge every aged care worker employs every day. They detail the challenging situations workers face, the changes to aged care over the years and working during the COVID pandemic.
Putting these situations on record is not an easy thing to do, so we’d like to acknowledge and recognise all the Aged Care members who took the time to document their experiences. Your statements are at the very core of our case, shining a spotlight on the true value of aged care workers.
AGED CARE ROYAL COMMISSION BACKS IN HSU POSITION
“First, we recommend that the Australian Government, providers and unions should collaborate on a work value case and equal remuneration application to the Fair Work Commission. We are pleased to see that the Health Services Union has already made such an application for its aged care members.” - Expert for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety
On 26 February 2021, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety handed down its final report. Its findings painted a dismal picture of underfunding and neglect. Throughout the pages of the report, the sentiments echoed: not enough time or resources to provide quality care to older Australians; rock bottom pay for workers who care for our elderly; and a system that is coming apart at the seams thanks to cuts from successive governments and unscrupulous private operators.
According to the report, decent care was an impossibility at current funding levels:
“The evidence is that current funding levels in residential aged care do not allow workers the time to provide high quality relationship-based care.” – p.9
But there were also positives out of the report. The Commissioners spoke very highly of the aged care workers who keep turning up day after day to care for older people in an exceptionally difficult environment:
“The present aged care system has a workforce whose dedication to care is impressive and worthy of more praise and reward.” – p.3
The report also backed the HSU’s Work Value Case, calling on the sector to collaborate to improve the wages of hard-working aged care workers.
Despite these strong commendations and recommendations from the Commissioners, the Morrison Government has sat on its hands about the key issue of wages in aged care. This is despite the growing crisis of attracting and retaining workers to the sector. When it comes to the aged care workforce the Morrison Government wants to put the Royal Commission’s report on the shelve to gather dust!
CHANGE AGED CARE
If we are going to fix aged care, we need to change aged care. As raised by the Aged Care Royal Commission, addressing wages has been a critical part of that change, but real change means career opportunities, proper staffing levels, sustainable and transparent funding.
On 10th May members bused their way to Parliament House ahead of the 2021 Federal Budget, demanding politicians of all persuasions implement the changes needed to reform the aged care sector. In a sea of pink and purple, members chanted, waving placards and making noise on the lawns of Parliament House. And while hundreds made the trek to Canberra, hundreds more were on the phone calling politicians to echo the demand for change.
With politicians and media in attendance, their voices didn’t go unnoticed. The call on politicians to support the once-in-a-lifetime wage claim and to #ChangeAgedCare gained widespread media coverage across the country.
When the 2021 Federal Budget was handed down the following day, a staggering $17.7 billion was announced for aged care reform but not one cent to improve the wages of aged care workers. The failure of the Morrison Government to address aged care wages makes winning our Work Value Case even more important.
ON THE FRONTLINE AT THE HEIGHT OF A PANDEMIC
In the middle of fighting for better pay and conditions, our Aged Care members continued to care for residents at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As frontline workers, our Aged Care members continued to put the care of residents before themselves and their families, turning up for work and providing the necessary care and support to those who were most vulnerable in our community, despite growing outbreaks.
It required them to adapt to a new and daunting environment, for many caring for Covid positive residents, at times facing challenges of inadequate PPE, increased transmission risk due to needing to work across multiple sites, having to fight to be paid for workplace mandated Covid testing. During these most challenging times HSU members did what HSU members do - they stood up for each other and advocated for safer, fairer workplaces.
A NEW CRISIS AT A TIME OF OPPORTUNITY
As what we hope is the peak of this pandemic is over, a new (old) crisis is emerging, with reports of chronic understaffing flooding in. Double shifts, working 14 days straight, members are exhausted and saying the sector is not only losing dedicated workers, but also failing to attract new ones.
This makes winning our Work Value Case even more important. Improving wages is also about improving staffing levels.
Our evidence is in for the Work Value Case. Now we turn our attention to employers who have until 18 February 2022 to put in their Work Value statements to the Fair Work Commission. Employers will have until the 18 February to come on board and commit to supporting their workers before gloves come off.
Members are organising now to turn up the heat on employers on their Work Value statements, wages and understaffing, through circulating understaffing petitions to pushing bargaining all with the goal of changing aged care. We know that it’s workers united that will make the difference in aged care.