Apr 14, 2022

“I get paid more as a cleaner”: Aged care workers speak out about their pay

I get paid more as a cleaner

At the recent Budget 2022 announcement, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg did not address the issue of aged care wages, leading powerful voices in the sector to call on the government to commit to funding the Fair Work Commission’s work value wages decision.

But the voices left out of this important conversation so central to aged care are the voices of the aged care workers themselves. 

HelloCare has heard from more than 250 aged care workers about what they earn and how they feel about their remuneration, which is broadly accepted as being too low – a view shared by the royal commission.

The seed for this article was planted on HelloCare’s Aged Care Worker Support Group on Facebook, when a member asked how much her fellow aged care workers are paid. 

Aged care

People are often reluctant to expose the terms of their employment. There is a stigma attached to talking about money, and sometimes it’s a condition of employment to keep the details confidential, but members of the support group did not hold back –  more than 250 commented, making it one of HelloCare’s most commented-upon posts.

Though the responses show that pay rates vary in aged care, the consensus view is that the pay is too low. And aged care workers are angry about it – one referred to working in aged care as “slavery”.

The average hourly rate for the residential aged care workers who commented on the post was $25.70. The lowest rate was about $21 per hour, and the highest were in the high $30s.

Under the Award, full-time and part-time residential aged care workers are paid a minimum of $21.62 per hour. The highest rate under the Award is $26.26. Casuals are paid a minimum of $27.03 per hour, rising to $32.83 for the highest level casual worker.

Home care

For home care staff, the support group responders had an average hourly rate of $29.08, with an average petrol allowance of 78.5 cents per litre. 

Under the Award, full and part-time home care employees are paid $21.88 per hour, going up to $28.78. Casual home care workers are paid $27.35 per hour, rising to $35.98 an hour.

By comparison, the average wage for a cleaner is $28.22 and baristas receive $29.23 per hour, according to indeed.com.

“Taking its toll”

Low rates of pay mean aged care staff work as many hours as they can simply to put food on the table.

As one member of the support group shared, “The stress of working in aged care where you are rushed off your feet and yet needed to support the mental wellbeing of the aged is taking its toll on me.” 

She works every second Saturday and doesn’t take public holidays to make ends meet. 

It’s unsurprising her workplace has a staff turnover rate for the last six months of 70%. The aged care worker who wrote this comment said she herself is trying to return to her old career as a librarian, where she is paid double the rate she receives in aged care.

Switch to disability

‘Ridiculous’, ‘disgusting’ and ‘appalling’ were words aged care workers used to describe the sector’s pay. 

Several recommended switching to the disability sector where the pay is better, and there were also suggestions that supermarket staff are paid more. 

Staff shortages

The wages aged care providers can offer are constrained by government funding. About 60% of aged care providers are already operating at a loss, so despite the fact that finding and retaining appropriately skilled staff is among the biggest problems in the sector, providers can not afford to offer higher wages until the government commits to funding them.

But the government has remained tight-lipped about funding the Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) recommendation for wages when it completes its assessment of the value of aged care work in response to the unions’ claim for a 25% pay increase.

The Opposition has committed to supporting the FWC’s decision.

Staff shortages are a significant issue for BaptistCare – the operator has 300 positions vacant, mainly frontline care roles. The provider said residents’ care needs are increasing, meaning the work performed in aged care is more nuanced and has greater complexity. Turnover is a problem, too, they said. BaptistCare has seen its staff turnover increase from 20% in 2020 to 31% in 2021. 

High turnover isn’t confined to a single provider – aged care workers are leaving the sector in droves. A recent survey by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) found that more than a third of aged care workers are planning to quit within the next five years. One in five are looking to leave in the next 12 months.

The problems aged care workers face go beyond low rates of pay – the work is complex, there is no career progression, jobs are often insecure, it’s common for staff to have to pay for their own training, short-staffing has become the norm and, in the last two years, there have been the considerable additional burdens of keeping residents safe during the pandemic.

These factors have placed a heavy strain on the aged care workforce, and while there are those who say they still love it and they do it for the residents, there are many deciding it’s simply not worth it. There is plenty of work elsewhere these days. 

An aged care kitchen staff member agreed. The pay is “low … for what we do and deal with, being essential workers, we are underpaid.”

With the sector projected to need about one million workers by 2050 to meet the care needs of the ageing population, the pay situation in aged care is unsustainable.

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  1. I fully support funded carer pay rises but it irks me when mistruths are presented as facts.

    1. The base rate for a barista is $20.78, the rate quoted of $29.23 is absolutely misleading as it an average hourly rate days,nights, weekends, etc
    2. An aged care worker AIN cert 3 has a base rate of….
    $23.67 Monday to Friday AM shift.
    $26.36 Monday to Friday afternoon shift
    $27.22 Monday to Friday night shift
    $35.51 Saturday
    $41.42 Sunday

    I appreciate the argument for wage increases but it doesn’t help anyone to mislead, it’s just too easy today to fact check and the media should present facts.

    1. So Anton. I work nights and have sacrificed my life with very little sleep and staying an hour back to finish the paperwork almost every morning otherwise they will phone me at home. I work 4 wards on 2 levels and had to work with an agency AIN recently to do 3 levels of 6 wards of 17 residents in each ward with an agency staffer who knew nothing! This has gone on for for the 10 yrs I have worked SLOGGED myself silly!!! I end up with $1,678 a fortnight after tax!! The reason we are often so short staffed is that nobody wants to come in to SLOG IT OUT anymore. We have had new staff begin and 2 women never came back the next day! Don’t tell me that our sacrifice of working afternoons and nights don’t deserve penalty rates and that our take home fortnightly pay is justified. You would be eaten alive if you were placed in the middle of disgruntled staff!! There’s the Facts!
      By the way I also have 4 children as my husband works days and they all went to 3 different schools. I would wake them up when I finally get home get their breakfast and lunches and off I go again in peak hour traffic almost falling asleep at the wheel. I was an exhausted mother with little pay. 10 yrs ago I earned $19.00 per hr! My wage only went up to $5.00 extra an hour over 10 yrs. And Yes I have bills to pay like everyone else and I can tell you we have had heaps of good staff leave over the years. We earn our penalty rates and do it because it is the only way to get a bit more but I can tell you we work like dogs and love our residents for the the most part but we deserve a pay rise even if you don’t believe we do!

    2. BTW Anton. I work 9 nights a fortnight and every Saturday night just to set the record straight. I am a damb good worker and my residents and staff love me. Shame the on the industries running the show and not appreciating their long term staff for the extra care they put in that is never seen by many especially on nights!

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with the above. Everywhere facilities are understaffed in all 3 shifts. If you take 1 day sick leave you have to provide a Dr’s certificate, for me it’s $89 to see the Dr and Medicare only reimburse $36. I’ve only had 3 days sick in 12 months and I’ve really got to be sick and not able to get out of bed..
    They do not show your sick leave on your pay slip either which I think is ludicrous. I dearly love my elderly residents and that’s the ONLY reason I’m staying but govt is in total denial when it comes to pay increase. Good idea is to have the minister come and stay in a facility for a week just to hear and see what is going on in this industry. It’s abhorrent and totally disgusting the way they treat their SLAVES…

    1. Angie, doctors certificates are required because so many carers take a day off on “sick leave” when they aren’t sick. This creates staff shortages and hardship on the residents that is simply unacceptable.
      When someone Chuck’s a sickie the other staff are put under pressure because management can’t replace them on short notice…then the staff criticise the manager!
      If you want to criticise anyone you should be aiming at the carers that take the day off to go shopping, play netball or want to watch tv…if this stopped the short staffing would also stop.

      1. I understand what you are saying Anton about staff having sick leave when they aren’t sick, however I believe that many staff are physically and emotionally “burnt out” that they are resorting to this. You might like to keep in mind that to live many of these staff work two jobs.

      2. When I “chuck a sickie” it’s because I’m so sick I don’t even want to get out of bed to go to the doctor… Having to get to a medical clinic when you feel unwell feels like some kind of insane torture. There has to be a better way.
        My thought is that Doctor’s surgeries need to normalise phone consults, not just for the pandemic, but to stop the spread of other respiratory and communicable diseases and make it easier for workers to get a medical certificate when they need it.
        Also, this default that employers automatically go to in thinking workers are simply “chucking a sickie” for the heck of it, absolutely needs to stop!
        This is one of the very reasons so many elderly people during the pandemic lost their lives – because workers think they need to (“soldier on” – Hello Codral! and) turn up to work no matter what, so their boss doesn’t think they are “chucking a sickie”.
        I got sick from a colleague who brought an illness into my workplace two years ago and my pancreas up and died soon after from the infection and I ended up a Type 1 diabetic – in actual fact, something that is becoming more and more common! It’s known as LADA – look it up.
        If ALL staff were entitled to proper sick pay and the facility is staffed properly, “short staffing” wouldn’t even be a thing. We saw the Govt having to pay staff who had no access to sick pay/holiday pay in order to take time off and stop the spread of Covid, as well as mandating single-site workforces. These are the measures that need to be looked at and put in place permanently, along with allocation for paying EVERYONE a livable wage.
        I am so sick of seeing people who are caring for the elderly citizens of this nation, people who are helping them die with dignity, being paid so little for their work – while 12 blokes can go and kick a bag of wind around a paddock for a couple of hours on a weekend and be paid millions every year! :eyeroll:

      3. How difficult is it to work out that these care staff need to take a day off every now and then because they are BURNT OUT from being overworked!
        Do you really think any facility will retain staff when they are treated like slaves?
        Do you really think any facility will attract good staff when they have such a BAD REPUTATION?

  3. Let’s face it. The Aged Care industry and the government/s are waiting for the influx of foureigners to fill the gap. Australians know it is not a good career choice working in the Aged Care sector. I received my 10 yrs of service a month ago and all I got for the hell and struggles of physical and mental slog was an A4 sized paper with a scanning code for $100 to spend at Woolworths/ BigW etc! I felt so embarrassed opening it up in front of people. With the huge profits they made for 6mths recently I felt ashamed that I work in the sector. Why didn’t I leave and work where the company actually valued the long tiresome years working in the Aged Care sector? $24.10 an hr. Great career move. How dare they! How dare they insult me in this way.

    1. Lucky darling we do not get a word said to us I have worked at my present job for 16 1/2 years not a word said ever to myself or anyone else who works here and we work for one of the biggest not for profit organization’s in Australia we are under their umbrella but there main office all get thanks for their service. We do get a $40.00 voucher for Coles at Christmas though how awesome is that.

  4. Mum is in an Aged Care Facility. Recently one of the better PCWs that worked on the floor where mum lives, transferred to working in the laundry at the same facility, because of less stress, and more wages.
    Such a shame.
    Mum has been in the home for almost 4 years now. I visit her every day. I’ve seen girls come and go. The work is hard, very stressful and much is expected of them. The other day when I visited, the was just one PCW taking care of 20 residents, trying to shower, help with breakfasts etc. because her off sider rang in sick.
    They definitely need a pay rise. Maybe then more would stay in the industry.

  5. Not only are We underpaid, We still have not received either of the so called bonuses we were supposed to get!

  6. As an RN with Master quals, plus psychiatric and gerontic certs I am offered $ 33 per hour? Really.

  7. It’s not the Government who sets the pay rates it’s the Aged Care Provider. Providers receive adequate income and it’s how they allocate the funds that should be questioned and I include both for and not for profit organisations
    Too many highly paid “executives” take the cream and then divide the cake after that

  8. Reply to Don…
    At present over 70% of facilities are spending more on care than funded by the government and the sector is as described by ACFA that the sector is unsustainable. ACFA is the governments own agency and they put out a report each year, ACFA no 8 was the last one and easy to google.
    The government recently announced that the basic cost to deliver basic care services in a facility was $216.80 per day but still pay less than $190 per day.

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