Hundreds of aged care workers across two states took unprecedented strike action earlier this week in protest over low pay and poor conditions.

Staff from some of Australia’s largest aged care providers in Queensland and Western Australia walked off the job Tuesday “because they feel they have no option but to take strike action,” said United Workers Union aged care director Carolyn Smith.

An already understaffed and overstretched workforce has been pushed to the limit by the COVID pandemic, said Ms Smith. “Aged care workers have to do double and triple shifts, facing dire conditions in PPE and no let-up in sight in many facilities.”

Carolyn Smith

But COVID was just the latest burden in an aged care system already in crisis, she said. “Aged care workers report aged care residents are frustrated, upset and humiliated as they wait too long to be showered, too long for soiled pads to be changed and too long, sometimes, even to be fed. All this while aged care workers earn some of the lowest wages in Australia.”

Timed to coincide with the federal election campaign, workers walked off at five major aged care facilities in support of their claims for a 25 per cent pay rise and an increase in staffing levels. Among the providers affected were Uniting Care’s Blue Care, Churches of Christ, Hall & Prior, Regis and Aegis.

Staff walked off the job at 11.30am ahead of rallies at the James Street Amphitheatre in Perth and Queens Gardens in Brisbane at 1pm.

Providers were given plenty of notice of the industrial action which organisers limited to five hours so as not to disrupt meal preparations.

Almost 1,700 workers were also going to walk off the job for three-and-a-half hours at Southern Cross Care facilities in South Australia. However, the protest has been postponed until after the federal election following a decision by the Fair Work Commission to block the strike over concerns for the welfare of aged care residents.

Meanwhile, about 100 SA aged care staff used their day off to rally in Adelaide’s CBD in solidarity with their WA and Queensland colleagues.

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