When the Labor Government was elected, it pledged to start properly paying women, beginning with aged care, and their recent submission to the Fair Work Value Case argues that a pay increase for aged care workers will “narrow” the gender pay gap in Australia.
The submission to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) this week received a lot of praise from the aged care sector as the Government intends to fully fund the outcome of the wage raise case, which will take the financial cost off already struggling aged care providers.
With the FWC still considering the case, the Government wanted to provide its own support, citing the undervalued workforce being “driven by gender-based assumptions about the work value of that work”.
If the wage is raised, the Government believes it will attract more women to the sector as well as ensure women continue to participate and work within aged care.
“The Commonwealth notes a decision to increase minimum award wages in care classifications in the Awards would deliver significant benefits to the women working within this highly feminised and undervalued sector,” the Government submission to the FWC states.
Minister for Aged Care, Anika Wells, said at a press conference yesterday that without being able to retain or encourage people to work in aged care, the sector will continue to struggle with workforce numbers.
“Until we value care more, we’re not going to have people who want to do that care work feel like their country recognises the complexity and meaningfulness of what they do,” said Minister Wells.
“So that’s why not only are we putting a submission into Fair Work to try and get a meaningful pay rise…but people like me, and people like [Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles], are going up hill and down to tell our aged care workers we value you.”
Minister Wells also expressed how she was “baffled” by the Opposition’s response to the Government’s intention to make the wage increase substantial, as the Shadow Minister for Finance Jane Hume cited concerns that the costs would be passed on to everyday Australians and needed to be “sustainable”.
Minister Wells said that the former Coalition Government didn’t learn from the Aged Care Final Report and had nine years to figure out a sustainable way to pay for pay rises but didn’t.
“For nine years, we had neglect. For nine years, we had no meaningful reform. And you know that because the Royal Commission said in its Final Report it appears that the Morrison Government tried to do as very little… as they could get away with by way of reform,” Minister Wells told media.
“The idea that the Opposition would say paying workers more is not a worthy and meaningful policy to try and increase workers to a very important industry absolutely blows the mind.”
Experts and the people working within the industry have long known that their work is undervalued, leading to many people leaving the sector in droves.
A 2018 report on the aged care workforce found that the sector is largely female-dominated, with women making up 87% of aged care workers in residential aged care and 89 % of home care and community care workers.
On top of this, it is estimated that 65,000 people are leaving the aged care sector every year and a March survey from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) found that one in five aged care workers were intending to quit their job within the next 12 months.
ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said, “Aged care workers told us they feel ‘unseen, unvalued and cast aside’ – they’re overworked, stressed and are fast losing hope and strength.
“The survey shows us that the staff remaining in aged care only do so for the love and respect of the people they care for, but their wages and conditions do not justify the risks and pressure they experience every time they go to work. It’s unsustainable.”
The United Workers Union (UWU) also backs this up. Aged Care Director Carolyn Smith said in May that the undervaluing of women in aged care needs urgent action, alongside disability and childcare sectors.
The Aged Care Royal Commission also recognised that a pay raise was necessary in the sector due to ongoing issues retaining and encouraging workers.
The Final Report stated that there was an obvious gap between the aged care industry and the acute health care sector, stating that past Governments have “failed attempts to address that gap by providing additional funds to providers in the hope that they would be passed on – they were not”.
Could the increase to the aged care workforce wage make positive change and impact the current gender pay gap? Tell us in the comments below.