Fix wages, fix aged care

Unions are sceptical about how much the PC’s reform proposals will do to address aged care’s workforce shortage.

Above: ANF assistant federal secretary, Yvonne Chaperon.

By Kate Horowitz and Stephen Easton

The Productivity Commission’s (PC) final version of Caring for Older Australians fails to deal with the wage disparity between hospitals and nursing homes that is behind a shortage of aged care nurses, according the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF).

The ANF argues the aged care sector “urgently needs more than 20,000 extra nursing staff to cope with Australia’s ageing population”, and that these extra nurses would only be found through higher wages.

The union’s assistant federal secretary, Yvonne Chaperon, said the industry could not wait for a new statutory body to examine wages, as proposed by the PC.

“The report recommends they look at wages in another three to five years; our members can’t wait another three to five years to have the wage disparity fixed, because they will be gone by then,” Ms Chaperon said.

“There will not be any nurses left in aged care in another three to five years. With the population ageing, the government needs to make money available because problems are compounding the longer we wait.

“The average age of nurses in the aged care sector is 55 and they are retiring. The young, newly trained nurses aren’t going to work in aged care, because it’s more attractive to work in the public hospital down the road.

“We have been complaining that there has been a problem for 10 years, and have been campaigning to the government for the last two and half years.”

ANF federal secretary Lee Thomas said that on average, aged care nursing staff are paid between $168 and $300 less per week than public hospital nurses.

“Therefore it is imperative the Government steps in following the release of the PC report and begins the reform of the aged care sector by closing the wage gap; otherwise we will simply have no workforce left to care for elderly Australians in nursing homes,” Ms Thomas said.

The union’s top official also questioned the lack of detail on workforce issues contained in the PC’s report, which largely steered clear of recommending any substantial increase of new funding into the current system.

“Whilst the PC report acknowledges there are workforce issues in aged care, it contains no tangible mechanisms on how to close the wages gap for the aged care workforce so residents receive the quality care they deserve,” she stated.

“It is inconceivable that the PC, after months of public hearings and submissions from nursing staff from the various states, fails to address the $500 million required to close the wages gap for nurses and assistants in nursing (AINs) working in the sector.

“The ANF is calling on the Gillard Government to step in now and act by making next year’s Budget the aged care Budget”.

Ms Thomas said that the extra $500 million funding for aged care would help ensure that aged care facilities have “the right balance of skills and nursing hours” to provide quality care to their residents.

Tags: anf, because-we-care-campaign, caring-for-older-australians, productivity-commission, wages, workforce,

3 thoughts on “Fix wages, fix aged care

  1. I can only disagree with the negative slant being placed on this subject. Age care nursing is a stand alone specialty nursing skill that requires the nurse to hoild specific qualifications that will also need to respected and valued by the service providers. I know that when we produce skills and qualifications that enable the nurses that want to work in gerontic care platforms to recieve the appropriate remuneration the industry will attract the best nurses available

  2. Aged care is a great place to work BUT staff ratios need to improve and staff need to be paid the same as other nurses.What is the difference between looking after the elderly in hospital or nursing home? Why should we be paid less to do exactly the same thing?
    Time and staff shortages mean the resident; who is the most important person here;is getting less time spent with them.Surely they want us to spend MORE time? Hard to do when you are flat out getting the work done, and then documentation takes up another hour or so.
    Surely our older generation desrve better than this??

  3. While it is unjust that nurses and carers should wait 3 to 5 years for the disparity to be addressed, the Commission did address the wages gap. The approach envisaged by the Productivity Commission is that the independent pricing commission will establish the cost base of an efficient operator delivering appropriate care hours. Funding will be based on that estimate. The cost base is to include wages comparable with the acute sector. If the PC recommendations are implemented, it will probably eventuate that most providers will not be able to achieve an efficient level of operations because of entrenched inefficient processes or small scale. Unfortunately, it will not necessarily follow in the medium term (3 to 5 years) that wages comparable to the acute sector will in fact be able to be paid by inefficient providers. In the long term (10 years plus), deregulation will eliminate the inefficient providers (at least in major population centres. This, together with scarcity of labour will improve nurses and carers bargaining positions which should lead to fairer compensation. Care staff will not be subject to the same level of imported labour competition as being experienced now by aircraft engineers and cabin staff, as client-facing care will not be able to be outsourced to offshore employees.

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