Australia’s aged care workforce crisis was a hot topic on day one of the Federal Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit in Canberra.
The Federal Government has been touting this Summit as an important meeting to tackle workforce issues.
Almost 150 Government representatives, unions, business experts and advocates converged to discuss a raft of issues, including gender pay parity, bargaining, innovation and women in the workforce.
Professor Sue Gordon of the Flinders Caring Futures Institute and Research Director and Workforce Capability Lead of the Aged Care Research and Industry Innovation Australia (ARIIA) delivered a confronting assessment of the aged care sector during a discussion on how best to maximise the potential of the industry.
“Aged care in Australia is in crisis,” Ms Gordon said.
“Approximately 70% of providers are losing money. We do not have an adequate workforce in numbers or capability to meet the needs of older Australians.
“We’re bleeding the workforce… the reasons they’re leaving are because of pay, stress in the workplace and the administrative load.
Respect for the aged care workforce was also a key issue for Ms Gordon.
“Aged care has been criticised very loudly and very broadly,” she added.
“They’re fatigued and the [workers] need to know that they are valued and respected, and that will help with attraction to the workforce.”
Another key point mentioned by Ms Gordon was the evolving nature of aged care, such as increased demands for specialist care.
She said that although many residential aged care facilities provide specialised care for advanced dementia, palliative care or high levels of disability, the workforce needs to be better supported with training and education to offer safe levels of care.
“We need different training and training pathways that are far more flexible,” Ms Gordon said.
“70% of the aged care workforce are personal carers, not always nursing or allied health.
“We need to free up the pathways so the people can get the skills that they need, and we also need to increase the type of skills we’re bringing along; we need specialist skills and foundation skills.”
Ms Gordon added that the sector needed to provide better career pathways to attract more people to aged care.
“It is [about] careers, not [just] jobs,” she said.
The issue of wages was raised earlier in the morning of the Summit during discussions on equal opportunities and pay for women.
Professor Sara Charlesworth from RMIT University spoke about changes to the Fair Work Act and award rates.
She expressed her desire that any award changes must be “robust” enough to provide genuine benefits.
“Sectoral or multi-collective bargaining really needs to be built on a robust award base if it’s actually going to lead to improved wages and conditions, particularly for women,” Ms Charlesworth said.
“The Australian Services Union in Victoria has effectively bargained for better wages and conditions for home care workers across a number of local governments.
“These agreements not only provide for much higher wages than most home care workers… but they also have decent working time minimums, including paid working travel time.”
She believes that legislative change would provide options for meaningful multi-employer or sector wide bargaining, which would deliver not only better wages but also better working time provisions.
Professor Charlesworth said that this would be crucial for workers in feminised industries, like aged care.