It’s time to back a pay increase once and for all, write Claerwen Little, Nicole Hornsby and Kasy Chambers.
In the last two decades, much has been said about the need to close the pay gap for women working in aged care. There was the Productivity Commission, which called for a boost back in 2011. A year later it was a government-funded workforce census. It found that low pay was a major concern for workers, and the biggest factor in their job satisfaction.
By 2013, the Australian Skills Quality Authority joined the chorus. They said that low wages were making it harder to attract aged care workers.
Fast forward to 2018. The Aged Care Workforce Strategy called out the low wages in aged care. They said that low pay was leading people to leave the sector, and that older people were paying the price.
We will spare you the full year-by-year list. Needless to say, the past two decades have seen inquiries, reviews, aged care providers, unions, and workers themselves beg for change. Three in four of those workers are women, and their livelihoods have been ignored with each passing year. Government after government has failed to act.
A year ago, another landmark report joined that list. The aged care royal commission warned of a crisis in the female-dominated workforce. They said that aged care workers were not being valued, and warned that without action, many would leave the industry.
The solution? You guessed it. A pay increase.
As church-based providers of aged care, we were part of the royal commission from the start. We weren’t surprised by its findings on pay. It backs up what we’ve been saying for over a decade: There are 210,000 women working in aged care, and most of them need a pay rise.
As for the government? Its position hasn’t changed either. Even after it agreed to many of the actions called for by the royal commission, it failed to act on worker pay. The refusal to boost pay in aged care has been one of the few mainstays in a decade of political chaos, even though the excuses have changed with the seasons.
The latest excuse? Instead of fairly paying the aged care workforce, the government will offer a bonus payment to some aged care workers. Some will get a payment of $800, others will get as little as $150. Some will not get any payment at all.
Here’s the problem. A one-off bonus will not change the fact that aged care workers are being priced out of rent. It will not change the fact that care workers, nurses, and other workers doing the same jobs in health or disability are paid more. It will not change the fact that low pay in the care sector is making the gender pay gap worse.
A bonus will not stop anyone from leaving aged care. Women in aged care need a pay rise, not a bonus.
Hanging on to these workers has never been more important. They have been at the forefront of the pandemic, keeping people safe as COVID-19 swept through the community. During the Omicron wave some worked for weeks without a day off as the worker shortage reached its peak. Like other industries dominated by women, their work has been undervalued for decades. Many are at their wit’s end.
On top of that, our sector will need to recruit another 110,000 workers in the next decade just to meet demand. If wages don’t go up, we don’t stand a chance.
The past 20 years have seen 20 reviews, a royal commission and a global pandemic. Women in aged care have waited long enough.
On International Women’s Day, we are calling on the Federal Government to prove that it cares about the women in our sector and the Australians who rely on them. It’s time to back a pay increase once and for all.
Claerwen Little is national director of UnitingCare Australia, Nicole Hornsby is executive director for Baptist Care Australia and Kasy Chambers is executive director of Anglicare Australia. These three aged care peak bodies are among six members of the Australian Aged Care Collaboration.
International Women’s Day is marked annually on 8 March to celebrate the achievements of women and provide a call to action for accelerating gender parity