Aged care workers across the country have been sharing the obstacles they’ve faced trying to receive the government’s praised $800 bonus, while the cash-strapped sector is being expected to fund the bonus to staff while funding applications are slowly worked through and approved by the government.
Aged care staff have also been addressing what they see as small-mindedness by the government, and a bigger picture outlook is desperately needed to solve the problem they believe.
Speaking to HelloCare, Donna Pretto said, “The system needs to be permanently fixed. Resident [and] staff ratios need to be implemented and wages raised to reflect the care and dedication of the aged care workers, be it out in the community or in nursing homes.”
Two months ago the government broadcast its plan to give 265,000 aged care staff a maximum bonus of $800 in two installments prior to the election, in response to mounting concerns over its management of the pandemic and the underpayment of the industry’s workers.
Employers were instructed to begin applications for the payment as of March 1 for eligible personnel who were actively working in the industry on February 28.
However, providers are being tasked with having to outlay the money to staff concurrently with the lodgement of application to the government, before they have even been viewed and approved.
Many staff have also spoken out about their frustration over not receiving the full $800.
Tania Waldron spoke to HelloCare, and stated, “It will be good to get the payment but I don’t think it is fair that you pay tax on the payment as we have on past payment[s].”
The Health Services Union (HSU) and the United Workers Union (UWU), both representing aged care personnel, have been unanimous in agreement that the construction of the scheme has significantly placed obstacles to workers’ early and appropriate access to the bonus money.
Secretary of the HSU, Gerard Hayes, said the government had been clearly warned on multiple occasions surrounding the issues plaguing access to the bonus scheme.
Mr Hayes outlined that the most glaring hurdle is that many providers, especially not-for-profits, did not have the capacity to forgo the bonus money to workers while waiting for the government to get through the slow assessment and approval claims process.
Speaking to The Guardian, he said, “The for-profits, there’s not many of them, I can see they might dip into their profit margin.
“But the not-for-profits, I’ve got no idea where they would get the money to facilitate this.
“The reality is this is just a lot of show and not a lot of go.”
Carolyn Smith, aged care director for the UWU, said the widespread understanding by aged care personnel as led by Scott Morrison’s announcement in January, was that the bonus would be promptly received after March 1.
Speaking to HelloCare, Rae Jamison clearly conveyed the confusion felt in the aged care worker community as to when bonuses would be received.
“Even though the government said that the first payment would be made in Feb, the application process was only made available to providers yesterday, so of course the payments haven’t been processed yet.”
Ms Smith also commented, and said, “So there’s just a level of frustration and anger.”
“It’s just been compounded by this overly bureaucratic and slow process.”
Continuing Ms Smith said that it has become evident that some categories of the aged care labour force – lifestyle and contracted cleaning workers, for example – were not eligible at all for the bonus.
Many working in the sector have shared their hope the bonus would encompass all.
Leonie Sinclair commented to HelloCare: “I hope it’s for all aged care workers!!!!”
Clare, a lifestyle worker, shared her deep frustration and concern about the government’s lack of awareness regarding her role.
She continued, “No one has more contact with residents. This is very disheartening and disgusting, we choose this job to make [things] better for residents and we do this as we are told with the appreciation of residents and families but these slaps in the face make you feel totally forgotten and ignored.
“Makes many of us wonder what’s the point as we have been excluded from all payments, like all we do is nothing and does not matter.”
Speaking to HelloCare, Natasha Burma powerfully outlined that the limitation of eligibility and the bonus scheme itself was missing the bigger picture.
“To be honest, I’d actually forgotten about it. And I’d rather see that money go into more funding, more staff, more training.”
Ms Burma added, “A bonus is nice in the short term but it doesn’t fix anything in the long term. Yeah, I’ve worked hard for it but so have many others and they too deserve to get recognised.”
Richard Colbeck, the Aged Care Minister, conveyed that his department had been communicating with aged care providers to fund the bonus to their workers “as soon as they submit the application to ensure staff are paid promptly”.
“This is an arrangement solely between the provider as the employer and their employees,” he said.
“It is a demand-driven grant – 322 applications have been received to date.”
He stated the government had prepared to field applications from 1,650 providers covering over 265,000 personnel to the cost of $210 million.
The bonus scheme is in keeping with the approach of the $393 million aged care workforce retention payments that were approved in the beginning period of the pandemic in 2020.
Payments were modelled to differ depending on the amount of hours completed, with the total of each dual installment to be a total of $400.
The HSU continues to wait for a decision to be made by the Fair Work Commission as to the case regarding a pay increase for aged care personnel of 25%, a possible $5 increase an hour.
HelloCare has heard from many aged care staff that the bonus doesn’t go far enough and the the pay rise is needed imminently.
Both providers and unions have settled on an in-principle agreement regarding the pay increase.
Both have conveyed that irrespective of the pay rise linked to the Fair Work Commission orders, the move should be “fully funded by the federal government and linked to transparency and accountability measures as to how funding is used”.
Have you been paid your $800 aged care worker bonus yet? Tell us in the comments below.