The union representing home care workers has laid out concerns about individualised funding in home care, saying the model has eroded working conditions and reduced the quality of care.
In a submission to the Royal Commission, the United Workers Union (UWU) calls on the government to commit to funding models that reflect the true cost of delivering quality care.
“In order to successfully manage individualised funding, providers have had to expand their focus so that the budget and financial transactions of a client are managed alongside their care provision,” the submission, based on feedback from 5,000 people, says.
“Listening to workers is the key to reforming our aged care system,” UWU National Director of Aged Care Carolyn Smith said.
“The current aged care funding system must be overhauled and workers know this better than anyone. Our members have firsthand experience of how service quality has been compromised by fiscal constraints.”
Ms Smith says the submission presents a clear picture to the Royal Commission of how chronic underfunding and dysfunctional funding mechanisms are contributing to workforce problems, including inadequate hours, high rates of casualisation and excessive workloads.
The situation has left aged care workers languishing among Australia’s lowest paid workers, with 75 per cent of home care workers saying their income isn’t enough to meet needs and citing low pay as key factor in deciding whether to quit the industry, UWU says.
Battle to improve conditions
The submission says the current home care funding model works against the enterprise bargaining system and make it extremely difficult to rectify low pay and poor working conditions. As a result, wage growth has stagnated over recent years with aged care wages at least 15 per cent undervalued.
UWU says annual wage increases across providers the union bargains with have been around 1-1.5 per cent, which is significantly lower than the Fair Work Commission’s recent minimum wage increase.
“Such increases are also insufficient to keep up with rising costs of living,” it says.
Nowhere has it been more difficult to improve conditions than in the home care sector, where workers are inherently ‘isolated’ at work.
“They work alone, and do not have fixed, regular places of work,” the submission says. “As a result, home care workers lack many of the supports and networks available to residential care workers.
“It is resultantly difficulty for home care workers to form networks, and for the union to connect with home care workers in their workplace.”
The submission also says that the home care industry is suffering from desegregation and fragmentation and is characterised by a proliferation of smaller, localised providers.
“These two factors severely undermine the efficacy of enterprise bargaining in home care,” it says.
Underemployment and casualisation
On top of low wages, the home care sector is plagued with high rates of part time and casual work.
Almost 40 per cent of home care workers want more hours of work and 16 per cent held more than one job, a UWU survey found.
“Underemployment is among the top reasons why people leave the aged care industry,” UWU says.
Security of hours is also a major problem in the home care setting ,where work is driven by client demand.
“Home care workers are typically engaged on minimal-hour contracts by which the provider commits only to provide additional work within the employee’s stated availability as it becomes available and based on client need,” the submission says.
“Many workers will indicate a wide span of availability, so as to maximise their hours of work, yet there is no obligation on the employer to provide any more than minimum contracted hours.”
Workers can be effectively rostered on for an entire day but only be paid for the few hours when they are with a client, UWU says.
Lack of payment for travel time is also a major problem, with one care worker cited in the submission as saying: “Often I can be driving all day yet I am only paid for the clients I see and no travel time. This means I can work all day and only get paid a few hours. Sometimes my shifts get cancelled on short notice and I don’t get paid.”
Meanwhile, the work performed by home care workers is variable and driven by client need, but providers often only pay the entry-level, unqualified carer rate for all work performed.
United Workers Union believes that a requirement for a minimum qualification at the Certificate III level should be introduced with a Home and Community specialisation.
“Mandating a minimum qualification assures that workers enter the sector with a level of knowledge and skill upon which to build and that may be transferred and recognised across the industry,” the submission says.