The royal commission’s recommendation to regulate the personal care workforce through registration will create barriers for new and existing staff, an organisational psychologist tells Australian Ageing Agenda.
The aged care royal commission made 148 recommendations to overhaul the aged care system including for government to create a national registration for personal care workers by July 2022.
Key features of the proposed scheme include a mandatory minimum Certificate III qualification, ongoing training, minimum levels of English language proficiency and criminal history screening.
The commissioners also propose a code of conduct and power for the registering body to investigate complaints into breaches of the code and take disciplinary action.
Commissioners Lynelle Briggs and Tony Pagone said the commission heard “harrowing stories of abuse in aged care perpetrated by care workers”.
“We also heard of the anguish of the families of the victims that there is nothing currently in place that enables the perpetrators to be excluded from the sector. A registration scheme will enable those who are not suited to care work to be excluded from the sector,” the commissioners said.
For existing personal care workers who do not meet minimum qualification requirements, the commissioners recommend transitional arrangements that allow them to apply for registration based on their experience and prior learning.
“It needs to be sector wide and the whole thing needs to be bipartisan… Without those increased wages, nothing’s going to move.”Professor Denise Jepsen
Macquarie University’s Ageing and Aged Care Researchers Network chair Professor Denise Jepsen said a registration scheme would create issues for new and existing staff.
“We’ve got such big shortages and while registration will help to give the impression of career opportunities, we still need to get more entrants into the sector. We don’t want registration to act as yet another barrier to entering the sector,” Professor Jepsen told AAA.
“We’ll lose some people who won’t want to go into the registration level, if they’re not committed enough to bother with registration,” said Professor Jepsen, an organisational psychologist.
There are also quite a lot of workers who work in aged care on and off around raising children or taking care of family, she said.
“I am concerned that some of that opportunity to come back might be lost by putting in registration.”
The definition of disciplinary action in the recommendation is also unclear, she said.
“If a care worker has been reported because somebody ended up with a bruise, then does that mean it’s the end of their career? Does that mean they’re going to have a strike or something on their record?”.
Professor Jepsen said the cost of the registration was an issue for aged care workers who are already struggling with low wages and a minimum qualification could deter new entrants or trainees.
“There should be a balance to allow new entrants to trial [aged care] and not provide this huge barrier that they can’t come into our sector,” she said.
The commissioners also made recommendations to lift award wages to reflect the work value of aged care employees and to ensure equal remuneration for men and women for work of comparable value.
Professor Jepsen welcomed the recommendation for increases in award wages and said better pay was “absolutely fundamental” to reform.
“It needs to be sector wide and the whole thing needs to be bipartisan… Without those increased wages, nothing’s going to move,” she said.
Professor Jepsen said she would have liked to have seen the commissioners recognise the intensity and emotional burden of aged care work in their recommendations, and more opportunities for personal care workers to work with allied health professionals.
Staffing key to quality
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation federal secretary Annie Butler said it was clear from the report that workforce and staffing levels were critical to improving aged care quality.
“It acknowledges that there are many ingredients in enabling high quality and safe care across the aged care sector. But unless you get the staffing right with the right numbers, the right skills, and most importantly time to care, you’re not going to achieve that high quality,” Ms Butler told Leading Age Services Australia’s Aged Care Transformed virtual forum on Wednesday.
Health Services Union Gerard Hayes said the government needed to get worker conditions like remuneration right before the sector could attract and retain the right people.
The broader community’s perception of aged care also needs to change, he said.
“People have a mindset that’s not true if you work in aged care. We need to be able to deal with that in a public forum and be able to promote the attraction of aged care,” Mr Hayes told the forum.
To address staff shortages, Ms Butler said provider should start by identifying aged care staff who want more hours including those who have more than one job.
“We saw that revealed during the pandemic where we found out how many workers have multiple jobs because they need to make ends meet. They would want to work more hours,” she said.
These are the people we need to go to first to get staffing right, Ms Butler said.
“We need to assess what we’ve got first, what we can do with the pool available to us, and then look at the strategies we need to build supply,” Ms Butler said.
The LASA Aged Care Transformed forum took place on 9 – 10 March.