The Health Services Union has launched a work value case with the Fair Work Commission to increase aged care wages by 25 per cent.
The case will look at the value of work that aged care workers do as well as how roles have changed, how career paths need to adapt and why wages should reflect these conditions.
If the case is successful, more than 200,000 personal care workers, activities officers and catering, cleaning and administration staff in aged care will get at least $5 per hour more, and qualified personal carers would see their wage increase from $23.09 to $28.86 an hour.
The starting rate for personal care workers is currently $21.96 per hour and aged care worker retire with $18,000 in superannuation on average.
Health Services Union president Gerard Hayes said aged care workers must be recognised for the work they do.
“Their roles are now far more complex than ever before and there has never been a significant review of what they do,” Mr Hayes told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“When you’re on $21 an hour – the lowest pay in the country – it’s something that needs to be highlighted,” he said.
The case also seeks to build career paths in aged care to acknowledge specialist carers in areas including dementia and palliative care.
The union has launched the case now in response to the sector’s current circumstances, Mr Hayes said.
“We’re on the back of a royal commission at the moment and we’re on the back of a pandemic that has seen in excess of 800 people die, many of whom have been in aged care.”
“We’re seeing a lack of investment in aged care, a lack of funding [and] a lack of resourcing that’s leading to a situation where shortly we will see a massive increase in people needing aged care. And the services and the career paths aren’t there to deal with it,” Mr Hayes said.
If the case is successful, it will help build he aged care workforce required in the future, he said.
“We will see that 25 percent increase in relation to the rates of pay across aged care and enhance the ability to have career structures and the retention strategies and the attraction strategies will increase,” he said.
Professor Denise Jepsen, an organisational psychologist and chair of Macquarie University’s Ageing and Aged Care Researchers Network, said the case to lift wages was welcome news for the sector as long as it is funded by the government.
“A decent pay rise is a recognition of the complex work done by carers as the sector has increasing clinical needs,” Professor Jepsen told AAA.
“Increasing wages is likely to lead to a more stable workforce, which is better for everyone; care recipients including residents, families, carers and providers,” she said.
The wage increase will also mean workers will be able to pay their everyday living costs with one job rather than two, and it will attract more workers to the sector, Professor Jepsen said.
Staff are more likely to see the aged care as a place for a career when they are paid appropriately, she said.
“Workers whose values are consistent with care values of the sector will be able to afford to work in the sector if the wages are brought up to a reasonable standard.”
She said the aged care sector cannot wait for the aged care royal commission to address wage issues.
Peaks support better wages
Similarly, aged care provider peak bodies Leading Age Services Australia and Aged and Community Services Australia support wage increases for staff as long as it is government funded.
LASA CEO Sean Rooney said aged care providers wanted to support workers with appropriate wages, but faces constraints because they rely largely on government subsidies.
“LASA supports appropriate remuneration and our members tell us they want more staff who are well-skilled and well-paid. The challenge is that the average provider can’t even cover their current costs at existing government funding levels,” Mr Rooney told AAA.
“We want funding for aged care to be linked to the cost of delivering high quality aged care. This means that when wages are increased or providers employ more staff, this will be recognised in the funding provided by the Government,” he said.
ACSA CEO Patricia Sparrow said aged care workers deserved more pay.
“It’s an injustice that shouldn’t be tolerated but the system isn’t set up to recognise them properly,” Ms Sparrow told AAA.
“In order to properly pay our workers, we need significant system change and investment. That is exactly what we are hoping will come from the royal commission. The government and parliament should build a non-partisan commitment to the big picture reform required,” she said.