While much focus has been on the cultural and financial changes required under consumer directed policy reform, a survey of home care providers has identified some of the key staffing challenges presented by increased consumer choice. Linda Belardi reports.
Greater attention needs to be paid to the potential workforce issues emerging from consumer directed care, says a senior industrial relations (IR) and human resources (HR) advisor.
The pressure to hire more casual staff to be responsive to consumer preferences, and the incompatibility of current IR arrangements with CDC should be firmly on the sector and government’s radar, says Scott Lucas, managing director of Miles Witt Partnership.
Lucas, who has consulted to the sector for more than 25 years, recently surveyed aged care employers in Queensland to canvass their views on the implications for the workforce. He says a number of participants saw employing more casuals as inevitable to meet demands for greater service flexibility.
“I was concerned from the inception that CDC would lead to a casualisation of the workforce, which I don’t believe is in anyone’s interests,” he tells Community Care Review.
“I fear that that is one of the options that organisations are going to be seriously looking at in order to try to cope with the flexibilities that clients will be demanding.”
When asked to identify some of the biggest staffing challenges facing organisations under CDC, employers nominated:
- reorganising rosters to meet client’s choice,
- rostering in advance,
- short shifts making up the majority of service requests, and
- retention of staff if employers are unable to offer permanent positions.
One respondent said they would look to more casual staff to give flexibility of service timings, but would seek to balance any change in mix with employment security to attract and retain the best possible staff.
Organisations also said that meeting the wage costs of flexible service delivery was a concern.
Contradictions in modern awards
Lucas says current industrial limitations such as minimum shift lengths for casual employees, and prescriptive rostering (posting a roster with 14 days’ notice) for part-time staff present an increasing dilemma for employers.
The payment of staff in the event a client changes a shift could also pose additional costs on organisations under CDC.
“The whole intent of CDC is more flexible service delivery to clients. The current industrial framework is not conducive to that flexible delivery and how organisations resolve that dilemma is a big challenge,” he says.
“I feel there is not enough waving of a flag that these issues need addressing and possibly direct intervention from the funding authority’s point of view.”
Liz Anscombe, operations manager at Community Care Options in NSW, agrees existing industrial arrangements do not align with CDC delivery.
For example, offering continuity of staff can be difficult when the Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services (SCHDS) Industry award limits the span of hours a person can work. “A client might require four services between 6am and 11pm, but that can’t be staffed consistently by a client’s preferred carer because the award and work health and safety requirements prevent that.”
Anscombe says managing workplace health and safety in a world of client choice and control is also an issue of concern, especially in relation to rehabilitating injured staff.
‘IR system is moving backwards’: LASA
Patrick Reid, CEO of Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), says the current application by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) to amend all modern awards to include a minimum four-hour shift length would be a retrograde step for staffing and rostering flexibility and would push up costs for home care employers.
“This goes against the very foundations of consumer directed home care that serve to enable people to remain at home for longer because they can access the care and assistance they need as and when they need it,” he says.
“Instead of moving towards increased options for consumers – and importantly, employees – at a time when society expectations are for more flexibility, not less, our IR system is moving backwards.”
Mr Reid says potential solutions would be to create an enterprise agreement, or an individual flexibility agreement, specific to age services, which would negotiate alternative arrangements without reducing an employee’s entitlements.
“As an industry, aged services need an option for an employer and employee to opt out of the modern award system and create an arrangement they agree to, which matches the need of the service being delivered and the needs of our ageing population.”
ACSA CEO John Kelly says the potential for further casualisation of the workforce under CDC would not be in the interests of consumers, employers or workers, and should be monitored closely.
However, he says it is too early to get a clear picture of the full implications and risks to emerge for the aged care workforce.
ACSA’s workforce position paper released in April also identified as a priority area the need to modernise industrial arrangements to enable providers to respond to a consumer-driven model.
Helen Gibbons, assistant national secretary of United Voice, says the union is concerned that requests for more flexible working arrangements could deteriorate working conditions if it means less hours and/or less predictable hours for staff.
“In a sector which is notorious for low pay this would make earning sufficient income to live on even more difficult.”
She says for CDC to be effective, government funding has to be adequate.
See Community Care Review magazine (November 2015) for the full version of this article, which includes a case study from Community Care Options on the impact of CDC on their workforce strategy.
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