At least 7,000 aged care staff working for some of Australia’s largest providers will go on a nationwide strike amid increasing anger over low pay and staff shortages.

“Aged care workers are being forced to take unprecedented strike action because of pay and conditions that are failing workers and failing residents,” said United Workers Union aged care director Carolyn Smith.

Carolyn Smith

In a statement, Ms Smith said aged care workers were paid so little that “they can barely afford the petrol to get to work.” She added that “outrageously heavy workloads” due to inadequate staffing levels meant that workers were “beside themselves with fatigue and they are emotionally exhausted by the distressed residents they see every single day.”

United Workers Union members at Queensland’s largest aged care provider, Blue Care, and South Australia’s largest residential aged care provider, Southern Cross Care, are among the workers who have voted in favour of the imminent action – which will include “indefinite stoppages”.

Responding to news of the strike ballot, Southern Cross Care CEO David Moran told Australian Ageing Agenda: “With aged care providers already facing significant workforce challenges as a result of COVID-19 and funding constraints, we are concerned that industrial action could place the continuity of essential care and support services to our valued residents at risk.”

David Moran

Timed to coincide with the federal election campaign, Mr Moran said any action taken should instead be directed toward the government and all candidates in marginal seats with a view to influencing policy and budget settings, “as opposed to being directed towards aged care providers who cannot sustainably increase wages beyond funding indexation without strong government action on funding reform.”

Mr Moran added: “We strongly encourage the Australian Government and candidates in the upcoming federal election to commit additional funds towards a wage increase for valued and essential aged care staff as recommended by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. This is a reasonable expectation of consumer groups, aged care staff, the union movement and the broader community.”

Workers in three other major aged care facilities have also voted to take industrial action to address the ongoing crisis: Churches of Christ in Queensland, Hall & Prior in Western Australia and Anglicare SA.

“Older Australians deserve quality care. That care can only be delivered by a strong, well-trained workforce,” said Kasy Chambers, executive director of Anglicare Australia – the peak body for the national network of Anglican care organisations. “Yet low pay is forcing workers to make tough decisions. Many are leaving aged care altogether.”

Kasy Chambers

Speaking to AAA, Ms Chambers described the wage dispute as “major unfinished business” from the aged care royal commission. “We share the frustration of workers still waiting for a pay increase,” she said.

Aged care workers had gone “above and beyond” during the pandemic, Ms Chambers added. “Our hope is that all parties and candidates at this election will hear their call, and value their work,” she said.

Ms Chambers said Anglicare Australia would keep calling on the government to fund a minimum wage increase for aged care workers and continue to push for a workforce fund to pay for higher wages, training and nursing costs.

Meanwhile, a vote on industrial action is also being conducted at three other aged care providers: Aegis and Regis in WA, and Bolton Clarke in SA. If union members at those sites vote in favour of striking, more than 12,000 aged care workers could be participating in the walk out.

The UWU has said it would liaise with management to ensure that residents’ safety and wellbeing wasn’t compromised during the protests, and that providers would be given several days’ notice ahead of any action taken.

Union members will decide on exactly what form of action will be taken in coming days, said Ms Smith. “But no employer should underestimate the level of anger after years of neglect of aged care workers and their residents,” she said.

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3 Comments

  1. Who can blame aged care workers for taking such action. They have avoided such direct action for decades – always holding the needs of their elders as the priority. In return governments of both political persuasions have taken advantage of their huge hearts and committment and given them nothing in return. In this election nothing has changed – these Angels of care deserve far better than this.

  2. Got an email from the big boss yesterday saying well done and I know you’re all working really hard…. Blah Blah Blah! Has No Idea! Blaming pathetic staffing levels on the Covid….. No one is accepting shifts due to staff having to do the work of two people – Work loads are Horrendous! They also expect the AIN’s to do the tea runs am and pm which adds another 60 minutes of work to the shift because kitchen staff can’t leave the kitchen. Also doing the job of laundry staff putting resident’s clothing away – all this with a skeleton staff. Sometimes 2 staff to 2 wards for P/Hygiene, toileting, after incontinence care, feeding, redirecting, reassurance, answering buzzers … I won’t do any extra shifts under these circumstances, don’t even want to go in for my own shifts… It’s Hell! All for $25. p/hour!

  3. I agree Kathryn. Everyone who works in RAC needs to check their position description. The expectations are unfair the AIN’s and support staff as the workloads are horrendous. If an Australian has a job they are supposed to rise out of poverty, and have a better life for themselves and their families. The pay in Aged Care keeps people with a job on struggle street and out of reach of what they need to buy. Working in terrible conditions day in day out to stay poor! Liberal and Labor have taken advantage of workers who are majority women, by allowing this to happen. These desk jockeys are getting pay rises and can’t even reform Aged Care because they are not living the workers world. We need to be paid for what we do, how can they not understand that nothing can be implemented without a workforce?

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