Industry wins came from the Federal Government this week, foreshadowing more support for our care sectors and relaxed working rules for those of Age Pension age.
On Monday, the Federal Government published its employment White Paper, Working Future, which outlines the future of Australia’s labour market over the next decade. The paper suggests the Government will incentivise high apprenticeships in care fields to bridge workforce shortages and make changes to the work bonus – a call that’s been made consistently from advocates in the sector.
The development of a national skills passport will also be implemented, designed to connect workers looking for a new job with employers seeking candidates with specific qualifications.
The employment income nil rate period will also be doubled to close to six months (12 fortnights) to reduce barriers for income support recipients to take up work. This will allow them to keep concession cards and other supplementary benefits for longer when they first return to employment.
TAFE will receive a $41 million boost in order to double the uptake of higher apprenticeships in the health and aged care sectors.
These funds will also facilitate the creation of new TAFE centres and additional apprenticeships to keep care staff up to date with relevant knowledge and skills to do their job well.
The White Paper states that building a highly skilled workforce will require “more collaboration across higher education, vocational education and training, industry and governments, and a culture of lifelong learning” to fill the employment and skills gaps in aged care.
To fix this, the Paper states that “tailored workforce solutions” are needed to ensure we have an educated cohort of care staff, as well as investments in domestic skills and training “complemented by targeted migration pathways.”
Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) Chief Executive Officer Tom Symondson has welcomed these objectives, including both domestic solutions and targeted migration strategies.
“We welcomed the White Paper’s acknowledgement that well-targeted migration can complement local skills. We agree that this is an important part of the solution to the challenges that we face.”
The work bonus allows those on an Age Pension, Veterans’ Affairs Service Pension or Carer Pension (if you are of Age Pension age) to keep more of it while employed.
From January 1, temporary work bonus measures which came into place in July will be made permanent. This will see new recipients receive a balance of $4,000 immediately in their Work Bonus income bank and an additional $7,800 over the year. That means applicants will be able to earn $11,800 annually before their pension is impacted.
This is particularly crucial for those of pension age working in the health and aged care sector whose experience and abilities are desperately needed to keep these industries afloat.
“We know that many Older Australians have decades of experience in caring and we want to remove disincentives to keep them engaged in the workforce. Many older Australians are perfectly placed to work in the aged care sector. They have the compassion, life experience and empathy to care for our most vulnerable,” said Mr Symondson.
“It makes sense that older Australians who still want to work should be encouraged to do so. Age should not be a barrier to people continuing to work and contribute to the care economy.”
But National Seniors’ Chief Advocate, Ian Henschke – who has been pushing for older people to be able to work while on a pension – said we’ve not quite hit the mark and that we still need a simpler, “easier-to-understand” system that doesn’t penalise older people for trying to fill much-needed jobs.
“This is actually a good option for those people who are already out there doing some home care and aged care work. I also know a nurse who’s working and would like to work extra hours but she doesn’t want to lose the pension,” he explained.
Mr Henschke said our current pension system confuses many pensioners who are trying to work and he wants to see the Federal Government adopt a pension system like that of New Zealand where you work and pay through the tax system.
He said, “This permanent change is a good one because at least people know where they stand for the next 12 months but ultimately, with 431,000 job vacancies in Australia, you really do need to have a system that would effectively encourage people to work.”