By Yasmin Noone
One of the sector’s most powerful trade unions, United Voice, recently held closed door meetings with 12 federal Members of Parliament (MPs), urging each to put pressure on Treasurer Wayne Swan and the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, to achieve workforce and wages reform in 2012.
During parliament’s last full sitting week of the year about two weeks ago, a United Voice representative and community care worker-cum-union member met face-to-face with a range of Australian politicians to explain why aged care reform is needed, why 2012 should be ‘the year of the aged care budget’, and what specifically should be done to fix workforce and wages issues.
A United Voice spokesperson said all 12 MPs agreed to support the sector’s campaign for reform and more specifically, lobby Minister Butler and the Treasurer for movement on workforce and wages issues.
On the list of MPs now in support of the union’s wage claim and sector reform are Stephen Jones, the Labor member for Throsby (NSW) who is likely to move the private member’s bill for same-sex marriage next year; David Bradbury, Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer; and Tanya Plibersek, Minister for Human Services Minister for Social Inclusion.
“We spoke to a range of MPs,” the spokesperson said. “…We explained that we support the reform process and like what the Minister [for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler], is doing but we want to make sure that workforce measures and wages, in particular, aren’t forgotten about in the reform process.
“I guess on the whole, the MPs are really supportive of the workforce measures [we spoke of] and what the government is trying to do.
“We were really pleasantly surprised that a lot the MPs knew a lot about the sector…We were really impressed.
“…We asked them to speak to the Treasurer and Minister [Butler] and let them know that [they support] us on wages and workforce measures. All of them agreed.”
The spokesperson said the meetings unofficially mark the next phase in the lobbying process – maintaining a 360 degree push for change from all levels and sides of politics.
“…Decisions [about reform] are made by Julia Gillard, [Wayne] Swan and Penny Wong, right down through the hierarchy of politicians. They make those decisions based on a number of things [and] on what kind of pressure they are getting from MPs in caucus.
“So if we really want to look at making 2012 the year of aged care budget then we need to put pressure on the Treasurer and Minister [Butler].”
The spokesperson commented that, at this stage in the game, individual meetings between an MP, a sector worker and United Voice representative are able to achieve more than a group event or public rally would.
“It’s important for politicians to hear directly from [our members] who are working in the industry, seeing clients every day and know what it is like to be on the front line.
“If we want to keep aged care reform and wages at the top of the government agenda, then that takes political pressure, and union members and others to continually remind politicians that reform should be a government priority.
“[That involves] one-on-one time with MPs and face-to-face meetings and [the telling] of stories that only a [worker] can tell.”
According to the United Voice spokesperson, lobbying the government is not just a job for aged care unions but something that everyone who passionately believes in reform should and can get involved in.
“…Every MP has nursing homes and community care providers in their electorate. So we need to remind MPs that aged care is an important issue in their community.
“…We have lots more work to do to ensure that 2012 is the year of the aged care budget. But this is a good step a long the way.”