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Aged care wages barely keeping up with cost of living

A new report, part of an election campaign launched by the Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC), has found that the wages of aged care workers are failing to meet the cost of living in Australia.

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Aged care workers deserve better pay to keep up with the cost of living pressures as well as for career certainty, says the AACC. [Source: Shutterstock]

The AACC is made up of six aged care peak bodies representing over 1,000 aged care providers and its campaign report, Priced out: Aged care wages and living costs, takes aim at the poor wage increases for workers, who are an essential component of delivering quality aged care to older Australians.

After paying for weekly necessary expenses, aged care workers have only:

  • $112 per week left over for a single worker
  • $17 per week left over for a worker who lives in a two-parent household with two children
  • A single parent household aged care worker cannot afford basic essentials and has weekly costs exceeding their income by $148 per week

At the moment, the current earning of a full-time aged care worker is $773 per week.

With the average weekly rent sitting at $425 per week for a unit or $571 per week for a house, the average cost of groceries being $135 (single person) or $361 (family), weekly transport costs of $113 (single person) or $338 (family), and the weekly cost of childcare and education at $122 - the cost of living eats through an aged care worker’s weekly earnings.

The AACC highlights that skilled and dedicated aged care employees could get a higher wage working in hospitality or retail at the moment rather than working in the aged care sector.

Currently, the median hourly wage of a support worker is $28.41 and $28.99 for a home care worker. In comparison, the median hourly wage of a bartender is $30, $30.50 for a customer service representative, $30.77 for a restaurant host, and $31.79 for a cashier.

Sean Rooney, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) and AACC spokesperson, says the wage as it stands is not encouraging workforce retention and not bringing in new people to the workforce.

"Aged care workers deserve better pay to keep up with cost-of-living pressures and so providers can retain workers in our sector. It is disappointing that the Government has so far failed to adopt Royal Commission recommendations to support a pay rise for the aged care workforce," says Mr Rooney.

"We have had staff shortages for years but under the pandemic it has become a crisis and, as the Royal Commission said, workers in aged care are undervalued and underpaid.

"The aged care workforce has been on the frontline of the pandemic response in Australia for the past two years and we know that they have faced many challenges as they worked to protect the older people in their care.

"The Aged Care Royal Commission handed down its Final Report a year ago, presenting us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the aged care system so that we can give older Australians the care and respect they need and deserve.

"While last year’s Budget response was welcome, we are yet to see a detailed plan with meaningful engagement with all key stakeholders to design and deliver the reforms."

AACC’s election campaign is calling for true workforce reform in three ways:

  • A Workforce Partnership Fund for providers so they can pay for increased wages, training, minutes of care, 24 hour nursing, COVID-19 prevention, and workforce retention
  • A minimum wage increase through funding the Fair Work Commission Work Value Case and award wage increases from July this year
  • A multidisciplinary workforce commitment, which would put in place an allied health needs assessment and funding model by July 2024

Aged care workers deserve better pay to keep up with the cost of living pressures as well as for career certainty, says the AACC.

Additionally, the Royal Commission made it clear that higher wages, better qualifications, and more time with older people would improve the quality of care in the sector.

Mr Rooney says, "The aged care workforce has been the frontline carers for the most vulnerable older Australians for the past two years – it’s time to give them the recognition they deserve."

The AACC is looking for all parties and independent candidates to make a commitment to the cause and support older people and their carers, providers, unions and health professionals in protecting the aged care workforce.

The AACC’s six aged care peak bodies are LASA, Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA), Anglicare Australia, Baptist Care Australia, Catholic Health Australia, and UnitingCare Australia.

To view the full report, head to the Australian Aged Care Collaboration website.

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