When the Prime Minister yesterday said an aged care worker can “aspire to get a better job”, he not only potentially offended Australia’s 366,000 aged care workers, he also may have turned people away from a rewarding career in an industry where there is proven long-term demand and a staff shortage.
In Question Time yesterday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said a 60-year-old aged care worker in Burnie can “aspire to get a better job”.
Though he went on to clarify that “working is aged care is a good job”, his comments have been interpreted as being disrespectful of aged care workers.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said yesterday on Twitter the comments were “disgraceful”, and that, “the 60-year-old aged care worker in Burnie shouldn’t have to ‘get a better job’ to get… a modicum of respect from the Prime Minister.”
“The Prime Minister showed his true colours yesterday, and it wasn’t pretty,” he wrote.
“He defines success and aspiration by how much money you make.”
The Shadow Minister for Ageing, the Hon Julie Collins MP, told HelloCare, “The Prime Minister should immediately apologise to Australia’s aged care workers who he thinks should ‘aspire to get a better job’.
She said the comment was “elitist” and “disgraceful”, and showed “just how out-of-touch and arrogant the Prime Minister is.”
“Labor believes Australia’s aged care workforce is world-class and values the incredible work they do,” she said.
Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt told HelloCare, “The Turnbull Government values and respects the care and immense dedication shown by our 366,000-strong aged care workforce.
“We’re backing them in their aspirations for promotion and professional development.”
The Minister pointed to the $2 million workforce taskforce that was established last November to examine strategies for growing and sustaining Australia’s aged care workforce, as well as the government’s new Industry Reference Committee and Remote Aged Care Workforce Accord which are being established to support and train workers in the industry.
“Dedicated, professional staff are the foundation for safe, quality aged care,” the Minister said.
Aged & Community Services Australia CEO, Pat Sparrow, said Australians should be encouraged to work in the aged care sector.
In a statement, she said that “contrary to the views expressed in Parliament”, working in the aged care sector “offers the rewards of genuine human care and contact”.
Ms Sparrow pointed to the recent HESTA report, ‘Transforming Aged Care’, which contained research showing that employees have a “strong commitment to working in aged care”.
Many aged care workers find it “personally rewarding to care for Australia’s seniors”. The report notes that aged care workers are often “highly motivated and vocationally driven”, often going well beyond what is required of them.
HESTA CEO Debby Blakey said in the report, “Aged care employees spoke of how rewarding they found caring for Australia’s elders – of special moments shared, of wanting to make a difference, or simply the power of being there to listen.”
“It’s this human connection that lies at the heart of retaining valuable, experienced employees and attracting the new entrants to the industry.”
The HESTA report notes that aged care workers believe they deserve appreciation for the work they do because of the high degree of responsibility they have for often “vulnerable” members of society.
Ms Sparrow said demand for aged care workers will remain strong well into the future.
The industry faces a shortage of staff in the coming decades, with the number of aged care workers required expected to jump form the current 360,000 to approximately one million by 2050.
A recent Seek report showed that jobs in the Community Services & Development industries rose 49 per cent between April 2017 and April 2018, driven mainly by jobs in Aged and Disability Support – which made up 33 per cent of the increase in job ads over the year.
Ms Sparrow said, “If young Australians want to be part of one of the country’s few genuine growth industries, and an industry that is integral to individuals, families and communities in all areas of the country, rural or metropolitan, then we urge them to consider a career in aged care.”