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Government can’t shirk workforce role: stakeholders

Aged care providers and unions have said the Federal Government cannot evade its responsibility in developing an aged care workforce strategy, given its role as primary funder and regulator of the sector.

The Federal Government last week confirmed its position that aged care providers were ultimately responsible for meeting the sector’s workforce challenges and industry would take the lead in developing a workforce development plan.

Minister for Rural Health Fiona Nash told a Senate estimates hearing that while government was committed to working with industry, providers were “ultimately responsible for workforce.”

Bureaucrats from the Department of Health also told the hearing that many of the levers for workforce growth “reside with employers.”

But aged care providers and unions have challenged that view, saying that government was the primary funder and regulator of the sector and set policy in areas impacting workforce such as immigration and skills training.

They also said the issue was not about government or industry taking sole responsibility, but rather all stakeholders – which includes the Commonwealth – working together on the development of a strategy.

Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) chief executive officer Patrick Reid said providers did not expect nor want government to dictate a workforce strategy rather it must come from industry and be developed through a co-design approach involving all relevant stakeholders.

The Federal Government had an “arsenal of levers” it could pull to help providers attract and retain staff – ranging from education subsidies to tax breaks, and the ability to expand current skilled migration requirements, he said.

“Government has a critical role to play in enacting appropriate policies and legislation to facilitate the implementation of a workforce strategy and its ongoing viability. It cannot be a passive observer to this process of ensuring that we have sufficient resources and people who are available, inspired, skilled and valued to meet growing demand for age services,” said Mr Reid.

Similarly, Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) CEO John Kelly said that stakeholders had been calling for government to partner with the sector in developing a strategy, not for government to take sole responsibility.

Adjunct Professor Kelly said the Commonwealth was a “key player” in many of the issues raised by workforce planning and it could not evade its responsibility in the area.

The Commonwealth regulated the supply of aged care places and income from consumers, it funded university education, regulated immigration and jointly oversaw the training sector with the states, while staff pay was ultimately linked to government funding, he said.

“Given this level of regulation, it is disingenuous, at best, to say that industry controls the levers when it comes to workforce,” said Adjunct Professor Kelly.

Unions representing nurses and care workers in aged care also criticised the government’s position.

The Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation (ANMF) federal secretary Lee Thomas said that as the major funding provider to aged care there was an obligation on the Commonwealth, as there was on all stakeholders, to come together to ensure the sector had a competent and safe workforce to provide care now and in the future.

“Any stakeholder’s abrogation of responsibility around that is frankly unacceptable,” Ms Thomas told Australian Ageing Agenda.

United Voice national secretary Jo-anne Schofield said the Turnbull Government appeared to have reneged on former minister Mitch Fifield’s commitment to the aged care workforce, which was “bitterly disappointing for the workers.”

Stakeholders working together

Mr Reid, who chairs the Aged Care Sector Committee Workforce Advisory Group, said the workforce audit conducted last year found there was “strong agreement on many of the polemic issues at play.”

Adjunct Professor Kelly said that given the government’s desire not to take the lead on a workforce strategy, it was essential the Commonwealth support industry to develop a strategy. This had to include a willingness to share data and resources, and to support stakeholder engagement, he said.

“Government will need to be open to regulatory reform, as workforce is not just about finances,” he said, pointing to areas such as regulation of training and immigration.

Ms Schofield said the best forum to develop a sector strategy was one facilitated by government and included unions, providers and consumers as well as other relevant stakeholders. “The aged care sector had demonstrated in the past it can work effectively together to achieve reform,” she added.

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5 Responses to Government can’t shirk workforce role: stakeholders

  1. Kristine Gatt February 17, 2016 at 2:25 pm #

    There is an opportunity here for the government to be proactive and innovative to better utilise the resources of an ageing workforce demographic in Australia. We see many people, over 55s, applying for work and getting knocked back time and time again. There is a raft of talent out there, under valued and under utilised. With training, equipment, flexible working arrangements and good practices experienced people are devoted employees.

  2. Julie Sloan February 17, 2016 at 3:26 pm #

    One only has to glace at the years of political standoff in the health industry in UK to see the damage this approach has and continues to have on their health workforce. The value to and role of Government in strategic workforce planning is clearly outlined in the recently published 2015 Australian Standard on Workforce Planning and in the soon to be released (ISO 2016) International Standard on Strategic Workforce Planning which represents the strategic workforce planning view of more than 22 Countries (including Australia). Government can support and undertake a range of workforce planning initiatives at economy wide, regional, industry, individual enterprise, country and global level. They are key external stakeholders of an organisation. They can promote greater productivity and economic prosperity, by providing for laws regulating the labour market and tackling inequalities. They can contribute by building resilience and agility in the economy to enable it to prosper, absorb shocks, adapt and respond to the impact of local and global factors, including periods of rapid structural change brought on by changing global demand and competition.

  3. Frances February 18, 2016 at 12:14 am #

    There needs to be a national training scheme for carers in aged care,, a proper entry test. A structure to rise through the ranks with added experience and education which should be rewarded by a decent wage, it shouldn’t be a job it should be a career then young people might look at working in the industry, we have people that only train as midwives so why not people that only train in aged care it is aa rewarding career.

  4. Drew Dwyer February 18, 2016 at 11:03 am #

    Perhaps some individuals and bodies need to practice what it is they call “Best Practice” and reflect on the past decisions that brought us all here. Industry skills training , education, and workforce development go hand in hand and it takes critical thinking and collaborative work.

    Unfortunately the industry skills council, which should have been all over this leadership issue, has now been made defunct, the funding for training has been reduced, abused by the greedy and ceased until further notice, the standards of care are now just words on paper that are drowning in opinion and WHS & IL rather than facts and quality outcomes being demanded by consumers.

    We are faced with the provision of services to the most needy in our society, the Great and Silent Generation. Those who gave all so that we could have much look like missing out on the most. The Baby Boomers are the biggest cohort of concern as they age into their retirements they now have to lead the focus on care and workforce issues that will spill over to affect them in the long run. If we are not careful we are going to miss the boat of utilising the ageing workforce, that has so much to offer society in this changing environment. Older workers are key to this skills mix problem, when the immigration of skilled migrants will require solid mentoring , leadership and training, the boomers will provide if the transition is right.

    I agree with most comments and in particular the call for collaboration between government and the peak bodies. Get together , think smart, drop the egos and find the solution not someone to blame. If we do what leaders do we will set it up for the next generation to follow.

  5. Stella Martin February 19, 2016 at 12:40 am #

    So now the ‘peaks’ want more government intervention?

    Of course providers should be ultimately responsible for their own workforce. Unfortunately, their track record would indicate they cant be trusted to behave ethically, so perhaps we do need an overseer?

    The only interventions they really want have dollar signs.

    Unions aren’t happy because they know the workers’ fate if government walks away.

    And government is understandably reluctant to throw more money at training because there’s already plenty of flaky RTO’s rorting the system. I’m sure the government would love to let us off the leash, If only we could behave like grown-ups.

    Maybe we could give them just one example of where “the aged care sector has demonstrated in the past it can work effectively together to achieve reform”?

    As Drew accurately notes, our sector’s greed, ego and preference for style over substance has relegated our raison d’etre to a distant second place.

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