A recent Senate estimates hearing revealed just over half of the 1,600 aged care providers in Australia have applied for the first round of the workforce bonus announced on 1 February.

“We encourage providers who have yet to apply to do so by the deadline of 15 April so that their workers can receive the bonus,” Sean Rooney of the Australian Aged Care Collaboration told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Of those 870 providers that have applied for the bonus – as of 1 April 2022 – only 499 applications had been processed for payment.

Responding to questioning from Greens Senator Janet Rice, Dr Nick Hartland of the Department of Health’s Ageing and Aged Group said: “We’ve received 870 applications and we’ve offered around 500 – 499.”

Senator Rice asked: “So, even of the ones that have put in their application, it is still only just on half, and you have still only processed 500 out of the expected 1,600?”

Pointing out that the bonus was announced two months ago, Senator Rice said: “We’re now in April. We’ve only got 30 per cent or something who have actually had those potential payments processed.”

When Dr Hart was asked when the remainder of the 870 first-round applicants would be processed, he replied: “I think we would be expecting them to be sorted in a couple of months.”

This led Senator Rice to exclaim: “A couple of months!”

Under the $210-million scheme, aged care providers apply for the bonus on behalf of their staff. Once received, providers are required to pass the bonus onto workers within two pay cycles.

“We encourage providers to pay it as quickly as possible,” said Dr Hartland at the hearing.

However, providers can choose to pay workers the bonus in advance of application. Secretary of the Department of Health Dr Brendan Murphy advised Senator Rice that: “Some of them have done that.”

To which Senator Rice replied: “But a lot haven’t, have they?” Dr Murphy said: “No.”

The government’s bonus scheme allows aged care workers to receive two payments of $400 as an acknowledgement of the struggles staff have faced during two years of a pandemic.

Slammed by peaks and unions for being tokenistic and insufficient, it transpired that – as the bonus is a pro-rata payment and the majority of Australia’s 360,000 aged care workers work part-time – most wouldn’t be receiving anything close to $800.

While recognising the bonus is “a short-term gain” for sector staff, Mr Rooney told AAA that the payment “fails to meet the needs of a workforce the aged care royal commission identified as undervalued and underpaid.”

Workers were promised they would receive the first-round payment in February and the second-round payment in May.  However, providers have only been able to apply for the funding to pass on to workers since 1 March.

According to a survey conducted by the United Workers Union, 97 per cent of aged care workers said they had not yet received the bonus three weeks on from that 1 March start date.

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