DoHA’s mea culpa

The Department of Health and Ageing has apologised over a ‘monumental stuff-up’ that saw packages of industrial relations information materials for workers prematurely and erroneously direct-mailed to aged services providers nationally.


The head of the Ageing and Aged Care Division of the Department of Health and Ageing, Carolyn Smith, has had to issue an apology to aged services providers over the recent ‘administrative error’ that saw packages of printed information relating to the government’s yet to be finalised workforce supplement, direct-mailed to service providers Australia wide.
The packages, which included a fact sheet, a range of printed brochure materials and a “Dear aged care worker” letter, arrived in the mail during the course of last week without warning and with no accompanying letter or instructions.
The unsigned ‘Dear aged care worker’ letter, on Department of Health and Ageing letterhead, referred to the ‘up to $1.2 billion’ provided by the government for the ‘addressing workforce pressures initiative’, saying, “from July 1 2013 this funding can be paid to aged care providers as a Workforce Supplement. They will then pass it on to aged care workers.”
The arrival of the unexpected materials and their unequivocal declarations prompted alarm and consternation among service providers and their peak associations.  The Workforce Supplement is currently before the Parliament and the subject of a review by the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs, with many aged services providers urging senators to reject the proposal.
A poor reception
In an email to members, LASA Victoria CEO, John Begg described the incident as “DoHA’s deplorable interference with employers – and employee relations – by distributing material that explains how to meet the pre-conditions of the Workforce Supplement and how to access ‘additional’ funding from 1 July 2013.”
Mr Begg says his “email and phone went into meltdown” as members contacted him about the matter, seeking support and action from their peak association.  “We have since heard back from the Department acknowledging that, in their own words, their actions were “a monumental stuff up” and were never meant to occur,” he says.
In a media statement, CEO of LASA WA, Beth Cameron, referred to the mailer as a “package of propaganda, printed and posted at great cost to taxpayers, seek[ing] to unionise the age services workforce by promising wage increases without any commitment of funding.
“The Workforce Supplement it discusses is unfinished policy, the details of which are yet to be released.  This direct marketing campaign was undertaken without advising the industry in advance,” Ms Cameron said.
With an election pending, there has also been some speculation that the incident may have been a strategic leak by Government, seeking to garner support from workers for a troubled industrial initiative, by promising a wage rise.
In an email to members, CEO of Aged and Community Services WA, Stephen Kobelke, quotes from a recent article by Judith Sloan [13 April] in the Australian newspaper, entitled, “Labor Party needs reform to break unions’ grip”:
“Under the terms of the recently announced $1.2 billion Aged Care Workforce Compact, for instance, providers will only be able to access the funds if an approved enterprise agreement – is struck. Note that the Aged Care Minister is a former union official of United Voice, one of the unions with coverage in the sector”.
Mr Kobelke says that “Minister Mark Butler’s office has distanced the Minister from the misleading material circulated to aged care providers, however he has been a strong supporter of the redirection of funds from the care of older Australians to worker entitlements and the United Voice has featured him prominently in their material calling for workers to join the union.”
“[….] DoHA also needs to review their internal policies as the distribution of these type of materials could be seen to put the Department’s long standing principle of political impartiality at question.”
Fuel to the fire
The incident has added fuel to the ongoing objection on the part of aged services providers to the way the workforce compact component of the Government’s Living Longer Living Better reforms has been funded.
Mr Kobelke told members that while wage increases were a key component of meaningful aged care reform, “ACSWA rejected a re-direction of funding from care services, instead of a long-called-for and much needed injection of new funds.”
“Under the Living Longer, Living Better (LLLB) aged care reform package announced in 2012 the Federal Government is aiming to redirect $1.2 billion in aged care subsidies to wage increases for Australia’s aged care workforce.
“As a matter of principle, ACSWA does not support a framework that diminishes aged care funding to providers in order to channel funds to supplement wage increases,” said Mr Kobelke. “Taking money from consumer entitlement to channel to staff wages is inappropriate, particularly in a consumer-focused environment.”


Tags: acswa, error, john-begg, lasa-vic, stephen-kobelke, workforce-compact, workforce-supplement,

1 thought on “DoHA’s mea culpa

  1. This should not just be a DH&A apology for a “stuff up” but a Ministerial one for the pre-matuure release of the “Wages Compact” last December that was short on detail and without industry support. The Wages compact announcements have been little different to Government’s announcements in respec to the NDIS and Education Reforms. It was only after these announcements that the Government asked for commitment from the States. Minister Butler and the Unions have an expectation that providers of services to our aged will commit significant amounts of scarce resources to improved wages and conditions. The Government’s Wages Compact commitment, given that there is still insufficient detail, equates to approximately 20% of the first year cost. That is, industry will have to find 80% if it is to commit to the Compact. Highly unlikely. This should not be a surprise to anyone. We should also remember that Government witheld 1.6% of ACFI during the 2012/2013 financial year. we are yet to have an iron-clad commitment of any annual increase in ACFI for 2013/2014. Our LASA/ACSA spokespersons at the NACA table are reminded that their membership does not support many of the so called reforms within the LLLB process as they stand, e.g. capital income, loss of retention, bond insurance, specified care and services proposals. At the start of this process the industry wish list was: the option of RADs for all residents (whether low/high), a full cost of care study including a recognition that COPO just doesn’t cut it, and a de-regulated market. All for the benefit of those needing care now and in the very near future. We are batting Nil from 3!

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