Australia’s Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan has requested that the Minister for Immigration consider including ‘aged care worker’ on the skilled occupation list.
Ms Ryan said that many valuable aged care workers came from recent immigrant populations and through “more targeted immigration initiatives” Australia could increase the number of skilled aged care workers.
She also singled out career changers as another important source of potential workers for the sector. “Increasingly, aged care workers also come from other parts of the labour market, from second or third career moves, or people coming from declining sectors – and aged care can be a good option for older workers who are having difficulty finding jobs,” she said.
Speaking at the National Aged Care Alliance meeting in Canberra on Friday, Ms Ryan said a “looming human rights disaster” in the provision of aged care could be diverted, but only if society placed a higher value on careers in aged care. Central to this would be better opportunities for immigrants and career changers, she said.
Ms Ryan highlighted the fact that the number of people in Australia aged 85 and older was projected to quadruple to more than 1.8 million over the next 40 years.
“We need to recognise and plan for this increased need for health service provision. This is an urgent and critical challenge for Australia: if we don’t provide properly for aged care, we will have a human rights disaster on our hands.”
While the aged care reforms improve on previous policies and programs by including a consumer choice approach, Ms Ryan said the real test lied in the implementation – providing aged care that was fully respectful to the rights of older people.
“The provision of aged care must align with the principles and obligations to which Australia has committed under international human rights instruments – principles such as non-discrimination and equality, participation, monitoring and accountability mechanisms and remedies. Our carer workforce will be key to success.”
She said the biggest implementation issue came down to carers – who they were, how they were trained, how they were rewarded, whether there was enough of them. “We do not have enough now and unless we introduce new approaches, we won’t have anywhere near enough in 40 years.”
Ms Ryan emphasised that if more people were to choose to become aged care workers then incentives, support, promotion and encouragement was needed. “We must place more value and prestige on careers in aged care, and improve the training and rewards for these crucial jobs.”