Aged care workers expecting to receive a pay rise in the new year will be forced to wait another six months after the Government revealed its interim 15% pay rise will be phased in over the next 18 months.
The Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) decision to increase wages by 15% had already been a divisive one after it was revealed only direct care workers would benefit, including all nurses and classifications of home care workers.
But it left out important support, hospitality and administration staff who are still integral to the delivery of care for older people.
Now, those who were hopeful of a pay rise have been handed a pre-Christmas blow after the Government’s latest FWC submission revealed it will not introduce a 10% pay rise until July 1, 2023.
The remaining 5% will then be phased in 12 months later, meaning workers will have to wait 18 months to see the full 15% benefit.
Publicly, there is widespread support for the full pay rise, with 59% of Australians praising the decision in survey results released by the Sydney Morning Herald last week. Just 22% said they disagreed with the increase.
Yet the Government has said it’s not feasible to bring in the wage boost just yet as it has to implement the proposed increase throughout its “various aged care funding mechanisms”.
Health Services Union (HSU) National President, Gerard Hayes, said it was a devastating blow to a workforce in need of support.
“The initial increase doesn’t come for more than six months and will be mostly eaten by inflation,” said Mr Hayes.
“Three quarters of aged care workers have already indicated they will quit aged care in the next six months unless there is a serious pay rise.”
Those thoughts have been echoed by Aged Care Workforce Industry Council (ACWIC) Chair, Libby Lyons, who said that while she acknowledges the complexities involved in implementing a sector wide wage increase, many staff will leave before they can experience the benefits.
“Aligning the pay rise with the start of the financial year and planned reforms will reduce the potential administrative burden on providers and employers, which is a significant concern in a sector that is undergoing major transformation,” said Ms Lyons.
“At the same time, we acknowledge that this is a bitter blow for affected workers, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet in these challenging times, with ever-increasing costs of living due to high inflation and interest rates.
“Staged improvements to wages will assist with the retention and attraction of direct care workers, but I think that 18 months will be too long for some workers to wait, and we may well see more workers exit the sector in the meantime.”
HSU, which has been pushing for a full 25% wage increase since it launched the ‘Work Value’ case in 2020 with the FWC, said this delay could further erode worker trust.
“The stage three tax cuts deliver billions in tax cuts to people who don’t need them, and the Government thinks that’s a promise worth keeping,” said Mr Hayes.
“Yet when a workforce of insecurely employed, underpaid women win a decent pay rise, it’s fine to breach their trust with delay tactics.
“Aged care workers will be furious with this plan and I fear it will sever the last threads of goodwill.”
As a number of workers missed out on being named in the initial pay rise boost, there are continuing calls for all aged care staff to be included.
Ms Lyons said the ongoing lack of clarity regarding pay and benefits for essential care workers, including lifestyle workers and food and hospitality staff, is concerning and they should be addressed by the FWC.
“Lifestyle workers and food services staff, including head chefs, should have a 15% interim increase applied to their pay rates at the same time as direct aged care workers, and encourage the Government to address this quickly,” said Ms Lyons.
This has also been addressed by the aged care industry stakeholders who met with the Government last week and handed down a joint statement regarding the current Work Value Case.
The Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA), Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) and HSU were among 11 stakeholders that signed off on the joint statement which included calls for head chefs and head cooks to be included in the wage increase.
ACCPA Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Tom Symondson, said the FWC must address the needs of all aged care workers when it next sits to deliberate future wage growth.
“We are concerned that the pay rise is to be split into two parts and that workers will have to wait until July 1, 2023, before the first increase and a year later to get the second,” said Mr Symondson.
“We are experiencing a workforce crisis now and we need to be able to pass on pay rises to our staff as soon as possible to recognise their incredible contribution and to give them the confidence to remain in our sector.
“We expect to see further stages of the FWC work value case expected early next year to address the work of kitchen, laundry, recreation activities and administrative staff who were not included in the initial decision to award a 15% pay increase.”
The joint submission also addressed the need to introduce the new pay rates as soon as possible with aged care peaks also urging for Government funding to be delivered directly to them to ensure staff can be paid appropriately from July 2023.
Instead, there is confusion towards the Government’s decision to phase in the increase over 18 months.
Catholic Health Australia (CHA) Aged Care Director, Jason Kara, said it was not the news aged care workers want to hear before Christmas.
“Both the Royal Commission and the FWC have accepted aged care workers are underpaid and that this is a key reason we are experiencing a crisis in recruiting and retaining staff,” said Mr Kara.
“The Government recently welcomed the Fair Work Commission’s interim pay decision as desperately needed and thoroughly deserved but now it has been delayed, we want to know why?
“This is a really bitter pill for aged care workers to swallow right before Christmas and is a real disappointment for our members and their hard-working staff.”