The unions representing aged care workers have released a five-point plan ahead of the federal election in May, including a shopping list of demands for home care workers.
The plan put together by the HSU and United Voice as part of their Our Turn to Care campaign calls for a ban on zero-hour contracts and restrictions on agency and labour hire work, as well as more time for team meetings.
“Aged care cannot be left behind in the election campaign and aged care workers cannot wait for the Royal Commission to report,” they said in a joint statement.
No to zero-hour contracts
Helen Gibbons, Assistant National Secretary of United Voice, says zero-hour contracts would require a worker to be available on a full time basis but without a guaranteed minimum number of hours per week. Such contracts are frequently used overseas, United Voice says, and the union is concerned there have been attempts to bring them into use in Australia where low hour contracts are already common.
“Most often here workers are on low hour contracts, so they are guaranteed 15 hours a fortnight, never know if they will get more hours … but might miss out on public holidays and only accrue leave on their contracted hours. This means workers lose out on wages and often have problems getting leases, mortgages or loans,” Ms Gibbons told Community Care Review.
Agency and labour hire are also issues for home care, she said.
“This is an issue because the agencies or labour hire companies charge huge fees which come out of clients’ packages,” she said.
“These staff are also often not as well trained or supported by the organisation and it severely impacts continuity of care.”
An isolated workforce
Ms Gibbons said home care workers tended to be an invisible and isolated workforce, working entirely in other people’s homes and in their cars, often without adequate training or support.
She said providing time for team meetings, which have become a rarity for home care workers, would provide an essential opportunity for face-to-face training, service updates, support and upskilling.
“The recent Royal Commission focus on home care highlighted what care workers and recipients know – that care workers often don’t have time to support clients in the way they deserve, care workers aren’t getting the training they need, there is an ageing workforce delivering care to an ageing population and the government doesn’t have effective retention and recruitment strategies,” she said.
NSW home care worker Teresa Hetherington said she and her colleagues did not receive the recognition they deserved for the care they provided to some of Australia’s most vulnerable citizens in their homes.
“We are the ones out there every day navigating a home care system that is stretched to the limits with wait lists blown out to over 100,000 Australians,” she said.
“It’s very hard work, the pay is so low and so many workers don’t stay in the sector.”
LASA CEO Sean Rooney said the peak body supported the aged care workforce strategy, including the goals of improving pay, conditions, training, and career pathways for aged care workers, but there was a need to balance this with available funds for wages.
“The challenge is to balance these goals with the practical realities of aged care funding, where indexation of subsidies is already falling behind wage growth leading to reports from some providers that they have been forced to reduce the number of hours of service that can be purchased at a given package level,” he said in a statement to Community Care Review.
United Voice, along with the HSU, is undertaking the largest ever survey of Australian aged care workers “to ensure that they have a strong voice in the national discussion on aged care and the Royal Commission”.
The survey will look at issues including workload and training, “to paint a picture of the pressures and look at some of the solutions,” a spokeswoman told Community care Review.
You can read more about the full 5-point plan and Our Turn to Care campaign here.