The aged care sector will benefit from skilled migrants and older Australian workers due to positive changes for these groups following the Federal Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit.
The two-day conference covered a range of topics and concerns, including gender equality in the workforce, wages, skills and training, migration and innovation.
Among the key outcomes to be introduced include an increased migration cap, a larger income limit for working pensioners, fee-free TAFE courses and more employment opportunities for people with disabilities, which will provide more workers to struggling industries like aged care.
The aged care industry is in line for a workforce boost thanks to the additional 35,000 places opened up for skilled migrants each year.
It means the annual cap sits at 195,000 and Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil told the Summit it would provide more attractive opportunities in Australia.
“Based on projections, this could mean thousands more nurses settling in the country this year,” Minister O’Neil said.
“One of the big problems is that we’ve created one where it is very easy to come as a temporary worker, probably in a pretty low-skilled job, but [it’s] virtually impossible to come here permanently as a high-skilled worker.
“We need to think about migration as a driver of productivity and great jobs. The system in place today doesn’t help us do that.”
The Aged & Community Care Providers Association has applauded the increased skilled migration intake, while welcoming the increased provision of 465,000 fee-free TAFE places.
ACCPA Interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Paul Sadler is hopeful the initiatives will also be backed by short term support and increased wages.
“Aged care providers are so short of staff many are forced to leave aged care beds empty or simply not take on new home and community care clients,” Mr Sadler said.
“ACCPA members are working hard to make sure they can meet the Government’s required additional minutes of care for people living in aged care homes but the dire shortage of staff, particularly Registered Nurses, makes it especially challenging.
The Federal Government has stated it will fund wage increases and award rates in 2023.
Multi-employer bargaining was another hot topic, and Mr Sadler says ACCPA is ready to take part in discussions and make a submission to the Fair Work Commission [FWC].
“We have viewed with interest the discussion about wages, and the union push for sector-wide bargaining, as having some potential merit for the care economy,” Mr Sadler said.
“As the aged care sector’s peak representative body, ACCPA is yet to formulate a policy on sector-wide bargaining and nor have we been approached by [the] Government, but we would be happy to join a consultation on the matter.
“The details of a proposal of that nature will be crucial in how we evaluate that option.
“ACCPA will work with the unions and the Government to make further submissions to the FWC on operational dates so that workers receive a pay rise as soon as is practicable.
“The timing of the pay rise will be dependent on when the Government provides the appropriate funding to aged care employers.”
Mr Sadler adds that any workforce wage increase needs to be fully funded by the Government, including on-costs, otherwise providers will not be able to afford a pay increase to their workers.
National Seniors Australia has welcomed the decision to allow pensioners to earn an additional $4,000 for this financial year.
The Federal Government’s one-off income credit means pensioners can earn up to $11,800, or roughly $450 per fortnight, without losing their pension.
National Seniors Chief Advocate, Ian Henschke, hopes this is the start of more flexible pension regulations.
“We are very happy to see the Jobs and Skills Summit take seriously our campaign to let pensioners work as a means of addressing the jobs and skills shortage,” Mr Henschke said.
“However, this new ‘income credit’ still puts the onus on aged pensioners to report their income to Centrelink which is a major disincentive for pensioners to return to work.
“It’s akin to them being audited every fortnight.
“We are grateful that pensioners can earn more and hope pensioners will respond to this move. However, we will continue to work with the government, opposition and cross bench parties and MPs to further reform the pension system.”
Additionally, pensioners will retain all benefits – and not have to reapply for payments – for a period of two years. Currently, payments and benefits are cancelled if a pensioner exceeds the income limit for 12 weeks.
The aged care sector has been receptive to getting older pensioners to work within the industry to assist with workforce shortages.
Mr Henschke also said that Australia should follow in New Zealand’s footsteps, where they have no income limit for pensioners and 25% of people over 65 still work, compared to 15% in Australia.