The Fair Work Commission’s interim ruling to hand down a 15% wage rise to some aged care workers has proved divisive amongst the aged care sector, with some calling it “barely a good start”.
Only those providing direct care to residents will benefit from the decision, with administrative staff and support staff, including kitchen, laundry and maintenance workers, forced to wait until the new year for a decision on their wages.
So is the wage rise enough to help the aged care sector?
Speaking at Question Time on Tuesday, Minister for Aged Care, Anika Wells, said key organisations, like the Aged and Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) and Bupa Villages and Aged Care, were “applauding” the decision as an important first step in recognising the critical efforts of aged care workers.
But the exclusion of some key staff has frustrated others, with Royal Freemasons’ Benevolent Institution (RFBI) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Frank Price, claiming it’s not enough to help.
“Whilst those that receive the increase will be happy to have the extra money in their pay packet, the increase does very little to attract new workers to the industry,” said Mr Price.
“These staff, who can earn at least 25% more in many other industries, particularly in the disability sector, may well be motivated to move out of aged care.
“The cumulative impact will amount to the industry continuing to lose staff and will not be in a position to meet the growing needs of older Australians.
Mr Price said the fairest solution is to acknowledge that all staff provide care for residents and are all deserving of a pay increase from the Fair Work Commission.
Minister Wells said during Question Time that aged care workers have spent too long languishing “without any kind of respect” in the aged care sector.
She said workers would have earned more stacking shelves at the supermarket and the interim decision to hand down a pay rise of 15% was the smart thing to do.
“This pay rise is vitally important because it will help us recruit and retain the staff we need to reform a sector left in ruins by those opposite,” said Minister Wells.
“A wage rise for aged care workers isn’t just the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do because the National Skills Commission’s own analysis tells us that with a pay rise of 10% going to aged care workers, we will halve the staff shortages we have in aged care by 2052.
“It was a crippling problem, there’s a deserving solution, and still the Morrison Government did nothing.
“Aged care workers were left to languish without hope of a pay rise. They were left to languish without any kind of respect. They were left on the front line of COVID without adequate protection.”
Minister Wells praised workers for their hard work, however, and said that aged care workers “don’t just deserve our thanks, they deserve a pay rise”.
“Now, for some aged care workers, after literally decades in the job they love, they are about to crack the $30 an hour barrier for the very first time,” explained Minister Wells.
With 65,000 aged care staff leaving the sector every year and a shortfall of 110,000 aged care staff within a decade, Mr Price is concerned that the lack of pay rise parity will add to the emotional toll on staff.
Mr Price said staff have already sacrificed a lot during the pandemic by working extra shifts and putting their own lives on hold to support residents, but now the Fair Work Commission has sent a signal that not all workers are equal.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, my message to the frontline staff was that we must work together and support each other so that we can continue to provide high quality care.
“This message has been tested at various times over the past two-plus years: case in point, the Government retention bonus which basically said that some staff are more important than others to the care of residents as only some staff were afforded the bonus.
“Although it’s not the intention of the Fair Work Commission, the message is being repeated.”
The Fair Work Commission is set to review whether they deliver a sector-wide pay increase at a later stage, a move that would take an unwanted amount of financial pressure off aged care providers.
The Government has committed to fully funding the pay rise, although no specific details have been provided. But there are concerns that providers will have to step up and cover the costs of an equivalent wage increase for staff not covered.
Mr Price said RFBI already pays its staff above the award rate following its own self-funded pay rises over the last four years.
“We are not in a position to take on that level of additional financial liability,” said Mr Price.
“Like so many providers, we have been operating at a deficit since the commencement of the pandemic.
“Our operating costs have ballooned and much of our additional costs have gone into protecting our residents, their families and our staff through the purchase of PPE, rapid antigen tests, rostering additional staff and additional IT costs.”
Mr Price said those costs have been covered by RFBI despite the Government promising to reimburse the provider.
What are your thoughts on the 15% wage increase? Do you believe it will help the aged care workforce? Tell us in the comments below.