Provider and worker representatives are calling for the government’s aged care retention bonus to be expanded to include laundry, cleaning and catering staff in residential aged care.
The government’s $445 million aged care package announced on 20 March targets specific mechanisms to support the aged care workforce.
It includes $235 million for a COVID-19 retention bonus to assist residential and home aged care providers to keep staff (read more here).
However, in residential aged care it is for care staff only with other frontline and resident-facing roles ineligible.
The aged care provider peak bodies Aged and Community Services Australia, Leading Age Services Australia and the Aged Care Guild and worker representative Health Services Union are united in their calls for the bonus to go to all essential facility staff.
The payment of up to $800 per quarter for two quarters “for direct care workers” in aged care facilities does not extend to all resident-facing roles including laundry and hospitality staff, the aged care minister’s office has confirmed.
“Full-time direct care workers in residential care facilities, including personal care workers, registered nurses, enrolled nurses and allied health will receive a ‘retention bonus’ of up to $800 per quarter, paid for two quarters,” a spokesperson for Mr Colbeck told Australian Ageing Agenda.
Full-time home aged care workers doing a broader range of roles are set to receive payments of up to $600 per quarter for two quarters.
“This includes workers providing clinical care, personal care, cleaning, home support activities and meal preparation, social support, shopping, community access and transport, allied health and respite,” the spokesperson said.
Eligible part-time and casual workers will receive pro rata payments.
ACSA CEO Patricia Sparrow said it wasn’t clear why different residential and home aged care roles were eligible.
“We think the intention of the retention bonus is good but there are some unintended consequences that have come as a result of separate amounts for residential and home care and division between staff who are all working towards the same end,” Ms Sparrow told AAA.
In residential aged care the retention bonus should be extended to other essential and resident-facing workers including cleaning, laundry and catering staff, she said.
“They are doing the same things as other people in terms of putting themselves on the frontline to care for people. It is saying their work is not being valued as much as the others and that is just wrong.”
Ms Sparrow said there needed to be a clearer definition on the meaning of an essential or direct care worker because it was important that residents had clean clothes, bedding and rooms, and food to eat.
HSU national president Gerard Hayes agreed saying anyone who knew the sector understood that every aged care worker played a part in caring and supporting older Australians.
“Right now every aged care worker is on the frontline, playing a critical role in keeping the most vulnerable safe.
“Every aged care worker deserves to be recognised – from the administration workers testing the temperatures of people entering facilities to the cleaners who are working at an incredibly high standard,” My Hayes told AAA.
The sector is already experiencing understaffing and workload pressures as a result of years of underfunding and losing disenfranchised workers could tip things over, he said.
“The message to every aged care worker should be one of thanks and gratitude for the incredible work they are doing. The Federal Government must ensure every aged care worker is paid the retention bonus,” Mr Hayes said.
LASA CEO Sean Rooney is also urging the Government to reconsider its decision to exclude some aged care staff from the retention bonus.
“All staff are essential to the delivery of safe and effective aged care in the context of COVID-19.
“Providing the retention bonus to some staff and not to others has been a source of significant anger and distress among employees,” Mr Rooney told AAA.
“Services overseas have reported that retention can be more of a problem for cleaners and food services staff than it is for direct care staff, who are generally better able to understand and manage the risks.”
The retention bonus is an important and welcome contribution but its inequities in eligibility are disappointing, said Nicholas Brown, executive director of operations at the Aged Care Guild.
“All staff working … in an aged care home are putting their own health at risk to ensure senior Australians are cared for during this pandemic.
“Whether they are involved in the direct care of residents or are responsible for cooking or cleaning, all staff play a vital role,” Mr Brown told AAA.
They carry the same risk and responsibility for infection prevention and control and should all receive the same level of support from Government, he said.
“The aged care sector will not be able to successfully respond to the growing COVID-19 crises unless the workforce is appropriately supported and protected.
“I am calling for the entire community to galvanise around this essential workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Government can do this by extending the retention bonus to all staff in aged care homes,” Mr Brown said.
AAA is seeking a response from Mr Colbeck about whether the government is considering expanding the bonus to other or all residential aged care staff.
This story was updated on 8 and 9 April.