Provider peak bodies have united to give their support to pandemic leave for aged care workers but have said many will miss out without additional funding from the government.

In a decision handed down on Monday, the Fair Work Commission ruled that the Aged Care Award should be varied to provide for paid pandemic leave.

It said the Nurses Award and the Health Professionals Award should also be varied to provide paid pandemic leave to workers who are employed by residential aged care providers or required to work in residential aged care facilities.

The leave entitlement of up to two weeks is for workers required by their employer, government medical authority or medical practitioner to self-isolate because they display COVID-19 symptoms or have come into contact with a person suspected of having contracted COVID-19.

Workers who are able to work at home or remotely during self-isolation are not entitled to paid leave but the entitlement does extend to casual employees who are engaged on a regular and systematic basis.

The entitlement, which came into effect on 29 July, will initially operate for three months.

Calls for funding to pay for new entitlement

In a joint statement on Tuesday, provider peak bodies Aged & Community Services Australia, Leading Age Services Australia and the Aged Care Guild said they have been calling for pandemic leave for aged care for aged care workers since April.

“But the reality is that without additional Government support many aged care workers will not be able to access the scheme,” the peak bodies said.

They raised concerns that the government’s recent announcement for compensation to cover pandemic leave only included hotspots such as metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire and only applied for eight weeks.

There is no way the funding so far announced can cover the cost of pandemic leave, the peaks said.

“Since the pandemic, providers have invested millions in preventative measures to protect their residents and staff.

“We believe aged care workers deserve pandemic leave – to support them and to protect residents and co-workers – however, providers cannot afford it.”

The Governance Institute Australia also said the government should shoulder the costs.

The paid pandemic leave scheme will help deter people from going into work when unwell  but more businesses will suffer unless the costs are covered by government, said Governance Institute CEO Megan Motto.

“This is the kind of practical step that will have a real-world impact in slowing the spread of coronavirus, particularly among those caring for some of society’s most vulnerable people,” Ms Motto said.

Megan Motto

“But under the proposed scheme these costs will likely serve to make life tougher for already beleaguered businesses. As details of the proposal continue to be ironed out, Governance Institute is calling on Government to support this important step financially.

“The government has had great success so far with its JobSeeker and JobKeeper programs. It makes sense for a paid pandemic leave scheme to also have their financial support.”

Minister’s response

Minster for Aged Care Richard Colbeck said on Wednesday evening that the government would respond on whether it would help fund pandemic leave for aged care workers nationally after further consideration.

“The Government notes the decision of the Fair Work Commission and will now consider the full reasons in detail before responding further, noting the support measures already in place and announced,” a spokesperson for Mr Colbeck told Australian Ageing Agenda.

See the ruling here and new determinations here.

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