Consultation begins on $1.1b workforce fund

The Federal Government has held a roundtable discussion to explore options for redistributing the $1.1 billion aged care workforce supplement, with providers, unions and consumers putting forward ranging views.

Unions have relaxed their position on enterprise bargaining as the only mechanism for delivering higher wages to aged care staff but urged government in talks on Monday to guarantee the $1.1 billion flowed directly to wages.

Keeping the Coalition Government’s promise to consult with the sector on the redistribution of the Workforce Supplement funding, unions, providers and consumer representatives gathered in Canberra on Monday for a roundtable discussion with Ministers Kevin Andrews and Mitch Fifield. Professor Peter Shergold, chair of the Aged Care Reform Implementation Council, chaired the discussions.

Following the meeting, acting federal secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) Yvonne Chaperon said the union would not be concerned if an industrial instrument were not used, as long as an alternative mechanism was “transparent and accountable.”

While she did not propose an alternative, Ms Chaperon said the ANMF did not support the funding being returned to the sector through an addition to the Conditional Adjustment Payment or to the general aged care subsidy, which is the providers’ preferred option.

She said there was a concern that providers would not pass on the funding to workers as pay rises without clear accountability requirements.

“In previous funding allocations the transparency and accountability mechanisms weren’t present to require the money to go to nurses and care workers, so it didn’t reach them,” Ms Chaperon told Australian Ageing Agenda. “There is fear again that it is going to be the same old, same old.”

Under the now abandoned Aged Care Workforce Supplement, providers with 50 or more residential aged care places had to have an enterprise bargaining agreement and agree to minimum annual wage increases and rates above the modern award set by government.

During the development of the supplement, the ANMF and United Voice had argued that an enterprise agreement, as a transparent and legally enforceable arrangement, was the only way that government could ensure that employers passed on all of the funding to aged care staff.

Employer position

Provider peak bodies including Catholic Health Australia, Leading Age Services Australia and Aged and Community Services Australia, presented a consensus position that the existing CAP mechanism introduced in 2004 was the preferred model for redistributing the funds.

Providers said the CAP was “administratively efficient” and was already being used to fund wage costs in residential aged care. For community and home care programs, providers proposed an increase in prices.

The provider groups also argued that additional conditions could be added to the CAP including mandatory participation in the Aged Care Workforce Census and Survey across both residential and community aged care and to expand financial reporting to the Aged Care Financing Authority to better capture variability within the sector.

Alan Graham, CEO of ACS SA and NT said providers also recommended increasing the viability supplement for rural, regional and remote providers to help address higher staffing costs in these areas.

Consumer view

Glenn Rees, CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia, said he agreed with the union position that the $1.1 billion should not be returned to the sector without clear accountability requirements on how the funding will meet wage parity objectives.

He said the possible conditions raised by providers during discussions did not go far enough to achieve the level of accountability and transparency consumers and unions were seeking.

Mr Rees also argued that if an agreement could not be reached on a wages deal, the funding should be diverted to increasing the number of community care packages available to consumers, particularly at Level 3, which by 2021 will only represent 9 per cent of all care packages.

One area that achieved agreement from all aged care stakeholders at the roundtable was the need to conduct a review of the effectiveness of government expenditure on aged care workforce development programs and to develop a cohesive aged care workforce development strategy.

The Coalition Government has said that it is committed to ensuring the available funding is distributed in a way that is “flexible, targeted and ensures the viability of aged care providers.” The ministers will deliberate on consultation discussions and take a decision to cabinet for consideration before an announcement is made.

Tags: conditional adjustment payment, slider, wages, workforce, workforce-supplement,

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