Workers ‘left behind’

The FWC’s decision has left a group of aged care staff feeing undervalued.

Last week’s decision by Australia’s workplace tribunal on the aged care work value case sends the wrong message, according to an industry insider.

“It says we are valuing one group of employees above another – but they’re all playing a very special and important role,” said Chris Mamarelis – chief executive officer of New South Wales and Queensland regional and rural aged care provider Whiddon.

Released on Friday, a summary of the stage three decision by the Fair Work Commission determined non-direct residential aged care workers receive a pay rise of between 3 and 7 per cent. Their direct care counterparts, meanwhile, are in line for an increase from 18 to 28.5 per cent, inclusive of the 15 per cent raise they received in July last year.

Mr Mamarelis told Australian Ageing Agenda: “I’m disappointed that there are groups that were left behind with a 3 per cent increase – your admin people, your maintenance officers – we’re disappointed in that outcome.”

So, too, is the United Workers Union. Its aged care director Carolyn Smith told AAA: “United Workers Union has consistently argued that support workers are an integral part of providing quality aged care, and we see it as disappointing this was not fully recognised by the Fair Work Commission in stage three of the work value case.”

Chris Marmarelis

Mr Mamarelis appeared at an FWC hearing in December to argue the case for support staff. “You kind of sit back and feel what more could you have done to get that message through,” he said.

“Our position has always been that, in aged care particularly, it’s one team providing holistic care along that care journey and all of those team members have an important role to play and contribute.”

Following the tribunal’s interim decision in February 2023 to up care workers’ pay by 15 per cent, Mr Mamarelis spoke to hundreds of Whiddon staff across the group. “And, while we celebrated with our care staff, the non-care and support staff were really disappointed and they felt left out. That message is back again, only it has been amplified. They now know what the position is and they have been left behind.”

While acknowledging that the 6.96 per cent pay rise for some employees – such as laundry hands, cleaners and food services assistants – is “a good step”, Mr Mamarelis told AAA: “I would’ve hoped for an increase above 10 per cent and, in all honesty, I can’t see why they were left behind to such an extent.”

In its summary, the FWC justified why some support staff deserved more of a pay rise than others.

Laundry hands, cleaners and food services assistants interact with residents significantly more regularly than other indirect care employees and this constitutes a work value reason for an additional adjustment to their rates of pay.

Fair Work Commission

In response, Mr Mamarelis said all of Whiddon’s staff – no matter their role – connect with residents on a daily basis. “In all of our homes there’s that personal touch that’s occurring; there’s that special level of attention. And it’s the same with your people on the front desk in reception, in admin; they’re connecting with families, they’re supporting residents, they’re organising special events. They’re involved the whole way.”

Carolyn Smith

Ms Smith echoed the statement. She told AAA: “The reality is that our members in cleaning, catering, laundry and maintenance are often the ones who spend the longest periods of time with aged care residents, given the huge pressure on care staff. We have heard heartwarming stories that prove support workers’ strong link to residents and to quality care, so it’s upsetting for them that their contribution has not been recognised.”

The UWU provided AAA with the following case studies:

A resident was losing weight because of poor appetite and loss of interest in food. In the course of conversation with this resident he said that his deceased wife used to cook him chicken rice porridge when he was not feeling well. Upon hearing his story, I cooked the chicken rice porridge for him and the happy look on his face when he saw the bowl of porridge was worthwhile for all my effort.

Choon, hospitality

I was able to build a relationship with my residents as they slowly trusted me with information about their life experience and even their everyday struggles. It is amazing how, when they feel comfortable, they build a good relationship with you and sometimes even treat you as part of their family. I have a couple of my residents at work where they tell me that I am their daughter and would like for me to call them mum or dad.

Jeraldin, cleaning

There is a resident who can’t hold her cutlery. I always take her breakfast to her and fit her spoon into a strap which I then strap to her hand. She says how bad she feels about the time taken to do this. My response is who cares about the time, I will always make time to help you stay as independent as you can.

Vanessa, hospitality

One resident spoke about her garden filled with flowers and her favourite was jasmine, so I planted a jasmine plant just near her sitting area to remind her of her garden at home.

Ty, maintenance

In terms of next steps regarding the FWC’s decision, Ms Smith told AAA: “Our members will decide what they want to do now this decision has been reached, and we will be making sure their calls for an appropriate wage rise are heard.”

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Tags: carolyn smith, chris mamarelis, FWC, United Workers Union, whiddon, work value case, workforce,

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