In a bid to boost worker shortfalls in aged care, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced on Friday the extension of an overseas worker program to Pacific Islanders wanting to work in the Australian aged care sector.
The program, Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme, was previously only for Pacific workers in areas of agriculture, meatworks and other blue collar industries.
The extension of this program to the aged care sector will potentially improve the availablity of nurses and care workers in the currently stretched workforce.
The Prime Minister said this morning that expanding this scheme is beneficial to workers in Fiji and other Pacific Islands, but will also be greatly beneficial to meeting aged care worker shortfalls and recommendations from the Aged Care Royal Commission.
“And this morning, we’ve [seen] 40 enthusiastic participants in the scheme, learning skills, so they get up to a Certificate III in aged care, many of them with a skill base to begin with.
“There were nurses that we met today doing the scheme, who are very keen on going, in this case, all 40 of these women will be travelling to Australia to complete their practical work, and then to be eligible for staying for up to four years to contribute to assisting… aged care residents, getting a great deal of satisfaction from that work.”
He said that these 40 workers will be going to regional areas in Queensland, from Mackay in North Queensland to Toowoomba in the south.
The Scheme has been relatively successful within other industries – currently there are 25,000 Pacific workers and 2,600 Fijian workers from the program in Australia.
Prior to the federal election in June, the Labor party promised to bring in overseas staff to fulfil its promise of having at least one registered nurse in every aged care facility at all times.
However, the Labor government admitted that this would be a tough promise to meet with current workforce issues.
Already, the federal government has called an emergency national cabinet meeting with state and territory leaders to discuss COVID-19 safety measures, including COVID-19 pandemic leave payments for workers.
Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) interim chief executive officer (CEO) Paul Sadler told the ABC that if continuing trends of COVID-19 infection continue through aged care and its workforce, there may well be a need to keep emergency help in place.
This includes the Australian Defence Force (ADF) support, which was extended to an August 12 deadline but may need to continue past that with the current third COVID-19 wave.
“It could be that it’s as widespread as it was back in January, and that could have a substantial impact on the availability of staff in aged care,” Mr Sadler told the ABC.
“There is a balancing act for the government here, but cutting back provisions which are supporting people to manage and cope with being ill as workers is not going to help us.”
Mr Sadler is adamant that the availability of aged care staff remains the biggest concern for the sector as issues with COVID continue.