Survey a ‘wake up call’ to pollies

New polling shows a strong majority of voters believe aged care workers deserve a pay rise.

New polling shows a strong majority of voters believe the aged care sector should receive an increase in funding.

Conducted by JWS Research on behalf of the Health Services Union, the survey found that 62 per cent of Australians think funding for aged care should be increased. That support rises in 17 swing electorates to 74 per cent and is stronger among Labor voters at 73 per cent.  

“We particularly targeted the marginal seats,” HSU national president Gerard Hayes told Australian Ageing Agenda. “Quite clearly, the communities in [those] seats support the fact that there should be extra funding … and that the pay rise is absolutely appropriate, particularly to attract and retain people,” he said.  

In December last year, unions, providers and advocates submitted a consensus statement to independent wage arbiter the Fair Work Commission in support of HSU and ANMF applications for a 25 per cent wage hike for more than 200,000 workers. The poll reveals – that when respondents are told this equates to an average wage of $29 an hour – 71 per cent of people supported the 25 per cent raise.

The reasons put forward to the FWC for the pay rise were many and varied:

  • Australians are living longer – as a result recipients of aged care services have acute care needs
  • the proportion of people with dementia receiving aged care has markedly increased
  • palliative care is more prevalent
  • age care has become more person-centred requiring  a focus on the individual needs of each resident
  • increasingly, workers are required to meet the cultural, social and linguistic needs of a diverse mix of clients.

Aware of the challenges facing the workforce, Macquarie University’s Ageing and Aged Care Researchers Network chair Professor Denise Jepsen said the pay rise was desperately needed. “It’s absolutely essential. There is no point in doing practically anything else unless it happens,” Professor Jepsen told AAA. “The aged care sector is at such a disadvantage without it.”

Professor Denise Jepsen

But a pay rise on its own won’t solve the mountain of problems currently facing the sector, said Professor Jepsen. “A pay rise is absolutely the minimum, but the workforce crisis is not going to be solved just because they get a pay rise.”

Retaining staff is also important. “The local conditions need to be good enough for employees to stay around,” she said. Then there’s staff selection. “This is superhero work, and it doesn’t suit everyone,” said Professor Jepsen. “I’m firmly convinced that bringing the dollar up will increase the recruitment pool and give us an opportunity to access many more workers.”

If wages continue to stagnate, the sector may well experience a mass exodus of staff. Speaking to Channel 9, shadow minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill Shorten said: “You can earn more at Bunnings … we’ve got to treat the aged care workers better.”

Where the parties stand

So far, the Federal Government has adamantly refused to support the FWC submission, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissing all calls to permanently increase workers’ wages. Instead, he has offered workers two one-off payments of up to $400. “I’m cranky that the Government hasn’t come in and said ‘yes, we’ll do whatever is needed’,” said Professor Jepsen.

The Opposition supports a rise in wages and said it will present a submission to the FWC in favour of an increase should it win the election. However, it appears reluctant to commit itself to an exact sum. “In my view, Labor needs to make a submission to the Fair Work case – that would be the first step forward,” said Mr Hayes. “They could also go further in relation to making statements on intended funding and so forth.”

Gerard Hayes

At the forthcoming election, almost half of those polled (46 per cent) said they would be more likely to vote for a party or a candidate who supports an increase in aged care funding.

Describing the finding as a “wake up call” to wavering pollies, Mr Hayes said both parties would be wise to listen to people’s growing concerns over aged care. “The difference to this election to other elections is the carnage that is occurring in aged care through the first wave and now the third wave [of the pandemic].”

Mr Hayes said the survey results are a clear indication that aged care is a hot button issue for voters. “It’s a very good snapshot of where people’s minds are at the moment,” he said. “Many people, if not most, have a parent or a grandparent in aged care, and we are an ageing population – so it’s not something that’s going to disappear.”

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Tags: denise jepsen, fair work commission, featured, gerar hayes, hsu, wage increase,

2 thoughts on “Survey a ‘wake up call’ to pollies

  1. I agree that a pay rise is necessary and must be actioned immediately. I just hope they don’t forget about the other side of the equation i.e. government subsidy, otherwise service hours will decrease. If the funding doesn’t increase in line with the proposed wage increase it will be detrimental to the consumers, employees and organisations as a whole.
    If wages increase by 25% and the funding remains as is, service hours will accordingly decrease by 25%. This will affect both the consumers and employees significantly. In short both sides of the equation must be addressed.

  2. Disability support workers are better paid with the same level 3 certificate but have much less security as most jobs are casual and getting sufficient hours is sometimes an issue –
    though not right now

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