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Landmark work value case calls for 25 percent aged care wage increase

The Health Services Union (HSU), a members-based union, has launched a landmark work value case with the Fair Work Commission in a bid to lift wages by 25 percent for the aged care workforce.

The Health Services Union (HSU) says a starting rate for a personal carer is currently $21.96 per hour, and an average carer would retire with $18,000 in superannuation. [Source: iStock]
The Health Services Union (HSU) says a starting rate for a personal carer is currently $21.96 per hour, and an average carer would retire with $18,000 in superannuation. [Source: iStock]

If the Fair Work Commission was to approve the case, HSU believes 200,000 personal carers, activities officers, caterers, cleaners and administrators in the aged care sector would receive a pay rise of, at least, five dollars an hour.

HSU says a starting rate for a personal carer is currently $21.96 per hour, and an average carer would retire with $18,000 in superannuation.

The HSU is hoping to be successful in their claim so that a qualified personal carer would see their wages increase from $23.09 to $28.86 an hour.

President of the HSU, Gerard Hayes, says the HSU claim is also seeking to build in career paths and to recognise specialist carers in the sector who work in areas like dementia or palliative care.

"Aged care in this country has relied for too long on the goodwill of an underpaid and insecure workforce of women. It’s time for change," says Mr Hayes.

"Aged care workers are skilled. They provide care and support to our most vulnerable, to residents enduring episodes of sadness and, at times, anger. They should be recognised and paid for their skills.

"This pay rise is an issue of justice, but it also goes to the sustainability of the system. Four in ten aged care workers intend to leave the sector within the next five years because they are at breaking point. A workforce crisis is coming unless we see a significant boost to pay.

"The Federal Government cannot keep hiding behind the Aged Care Royal Commission. We need action immediately. The best thing the Commonwealth Government can do is support this pay rise for the long-suffering aged care workforce."

The Aged Care Royal Commission's proposed recommendations included reform for the aged care workforce. Recommendation 42 outlined improved remuneration for aged care workers as it is a driver of employment choice and attracts staff with the appropriate skills to the sector.

Non-for-profit aged care peak body, Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA), believes that aged care workers deserve far more pay than what they are currently receiving, however, the sector still needs significant financial reform to be able to afford the wage increase.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ACSA, Patricia Sparrow, says, "Aged care workers are amongst the hardest working, passionate and caring in Australia. Everyone knows aged care workers deserve far more pay. It’s an injustice that shouldn’t be tolerated but the system isn’t set up to recognise them properly. 

"In order to properly pay our workers, we need significant system change and investment. That is exactly what we are hoping will come from the Royal Commission. The Government and Parliament should build a non-partisan commitment to the big picture reform required.

"The contribution aged care workers make is enormous and it simply isn’t recognised in both pay and community respect."

Industry peak body, Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), agrees with ACSA, adding that aged care providers are struggling to cover their costs on the existing funding levels from the Federal Government.

LASA CEO, Sean Rooney, says, "Aged care providers seek to support their workers with appropriate wages and work conditions that reflect the commitment and care they provide for older Australians. However, providers face constraints in that they largely rely on Government subsidies to fund the care provided. 

"LASA supports appropriate remuneration and our Members tell us they want more staff, who are well-skilled and well-paid. The challenge is that the average provider can’t even cover their current costs at existing Government funding levels. 

"While we support better pay for aged care workers, wage increases have continued to outstrip the indexation of aged care subsidies for many years. The latest independent financial report shows 64 percent of surveyed residential care homes recorded an operating loss in 2019-20, an eight percent rise over the previous financial year. 

"We want funding for aged care to be linked to the cost of delivering high quality aged care. This means that when wages are increased or providers employ more staff, this will be recognised in the funding provided by the Government. LASA supports efforts to increase remuneration, but this is not a straightforward issue."

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