‘They deserve so much more respect’

The aged care workforce crisis needs more than just a one-off stimulus, writes Uniting NSW.ACT CEO Tracey Burton.

The aged care workforce crisis needs more than just a one-off stimulus, writes Tracey Burton.

As the CEO of one of the country’s largest aged care providers, caring for over 5,000 senior Australians in residential aged care homes, I appreciate the gesture announced today by the Federal Government of two extra payments amounting to up to $800 to all aged care staff.

Every little bit helps, but the fact remains that aged care workers and the industry need greater support than a one-off stimulus.

Almost one year on since the royal commission handed down its findings, the most critical reform recommended by the findings, has yet to be addressed; fair and increased wages, better training, improved career paths and recognition across the community that aged care workers are some of our most valuable contributors.

They are the backbone of the broader health and community services system and they deserve so much more respect. Having enough staff on site every day to support and care for residents is so critical. But sadly, these dedicated and hardworking people have been in chronic short supply well before the pandemic began.

Tracey Burton

Nothing can be delivered without a workforce. The impact of high rates of community transmission dramatically increases the risk of COVID spreading in aged care homes and has had a devastating impact on individuals and services. 

After decades of underfunding aged care, these heroic staff are some of the lowest paid workers in the country and despite the royal commission recommendation to address this with urgency, nothing has been committed by the Government to correct this underpayment.

The growing demand for workers in aged care, combined with their chronic low rates of pay is fuelling this workforce crisis. Better pay, incentives to undertake training, priority access and recommencement of migration of these essential workers is critically needed to bolster the aged care workforce immediately.

Providers are losing valuable skilled staff who have resigned after years in the sector due to the ongoing, relentless pressures on the workforce as they battle to protect and support the older Australians in their care. As the Omicron variant sweeps the nation, I am reaching out to request urgency in addressing the wages deficit.

Aged care workers are our true heroes. At Uniting, our people have been turning up every day, many doing 12-hour shifts, wearing full PPE day after day, missing key events with their own families. There has been no Christmas or festive season or holiday for them. All because they are so dedicated to the care and support of our residents, who are some of the most vulnerable people in our community. 

Along with others in the aged care sector, we have advocated to the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services for an urgent repeat of the retention bonus which was handed out in 2020.

One-off payments however, don’t correct the undervaluing of the work seen in the core wages. A significant funded uplift to the base rate is needed now. This could be a down-payment on a yet to be delivered Government commitment to fund the outcome of the aged care work value case before the Fair Work Commission.

Let us not have another royal commission report into aged care languish on a shelf. We must seize all the recommendations and invest in the very people who do the caring of older Australians every day.

Tracey Burton is chief executive officer of Uniting NSW.ACT

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Tags: retention bonus, tracey burton, UnitingCare Ageing NSW & ACT, workforce,

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