The United Workers Union is campaigning for aged care workers to be paid for leave they need take because of concerns related to coronavirus.
The #FundMyLeave campaign launched last Friday wants the Federal Government and employers to commit to two weeks paid COVID-19 leave for aged care staff.
The special leave aims to allow staff to stay home without fear of losing income if they or a family member is experiencing any symptoms related to coronavirus.
United Workers Union aged care national director Carolyn Smith said aged care workers were forced to make a difficult decision between going to work with mild symptoms, using their annual leave or taking unpaid leave.
“We think aged care staff are going to be under pressure through this next six-month period where they work with incredibly vulnerable people and they know that going into work with even mild symptoms could put an older Australian’s life at risk,” Ms Smith told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“It means they will be using a significant amount of leave every time they have a scratchy throat and need to go get tested for COVID-19,”she said.
“These are really low paid workers and that’s a really tough economic decision for them, but the public health impact of that decision is huge,” Ms Smith said.
While some aged care organisations have offered paid leave to their staff for COVID-related leave, many others haven’t because of financial issues, she said.
Ms Smith said outbreaks in New South Wales aged care facilities including Anglicare Sydney’s Newmarch house, and BaptistCare NSW & ACT’s Dorothy Henderson Lodge show the devastating effects the virus can have in aged care.
“The need for this paid leave has been highlighted from the situation with NSW where we’ve seen a number of facilities where there have been residents sick and dying from COVID-19,” she said.
Aged care peak body Aged and Community Services Australia doesn’t have a position on the campaign but has been talking to the unions about the issues confronting aged care workers, said ACSA CEO Patricia Sparrow.
“Aged care providers want to be able to pay those workers – and numbers already are – as well as being able to pay critical replacement staff,” Ms Sparrow told AAA.
“As part of our rescue package we’ve also requested funding to support staff who are forced to isolate to reduce infection risk to older Australians,” she said.
Melinda Vaz, who works in aged care in Western Australia is urging her counterparts around the country to join the campaign.
“Aged care workers already know the difficult and dangerous choices they make if they wake up with a slightly sore throat or a cough,” she said.
“We have seen what happens when an aged care worker unknowingly attends a facility with coronavirus.
“With special said COVID-19 leave the result is safer workers and safer residents,” Ms Vaz said.
Many aged care workers have taken to social media to show their support for paid paid COVID-19 leave.
Find out more about the campaign here.