The nixed Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments scheme is relaunching from today, with workers isolating due to COVID-19 exposure or infection able to access the funding again – a great win for aged care workers.
Following an emergency national cabinet meeting on Saturday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the intention to reinstate the payment for eligible workers to run through to September 30, 2022.
The federal government bowed to pressure to keep the emergency payment going as many unions and aged care peak bodies called for the payment to continue through what is expected to be a difficult third COVID-19 wave for the aged care sector.
On FiveAA Mornings, Prime Minister Albanese said the pandemic leave would provide workers, including casuals, with access to emergency payments if they were unable to work due to COVID-19.
This has been a particular issue in aged care, with the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) concerned that the scrapping of this leave disaster payment would put financial pressure on aged care workers and potentially result in people continuing to work while COVID-19 positive.
The Union welcomed the news that the $750 disaster payments would be available for essential workers over the “‘winter wave of the pandemic”.
ANMF federal secretary, Annie Butler, said vulnerable workers that do not have leave entitlements will be protected and encouraged to follow public health orders.
“This is a really sensible decision which will allow casual workers to receive a payment to stay home and recover from COVID – and not spread the virus through the rest of the community if they are forced to go out to work,” said Ms Butler.
“We are now facing a winter wave of COVID infections, which has already seen a worrying spike in the rates of hospitalisations.
“Nurses, midwives and care workers need to be supported so they can continue to provide quality healthcare for all Australians when they need it.”
Other recommendations that were made at the national cabinet meeting include:
Peak body for aged care, the Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA), has also welcomed the new decisions to extend and reinstate COVID third wave measures.
Interim chief executive officer (CEO) of ACCPA, Paul Sadler, said the recommendation to wear masks indoors and maintain social distancing is particularly welcome as community transmission poses the “greatest risk” to older Australians in aged care.
He added the pandemic leave payment was also important to the sector, but that there were other measures that were missing from the recommendations.
“However, we are disappointed there has not been any additional funding commitment for infection prevention measures for residential and home care providers, or in relation to surge workforce supply.”
Only this week, Mr Sadler told HelloCare that Australian Defence Force (ADF) support needs to continue within the sector to bolster a dwindling workforce.
He said ACCPA has raised the concerns with the government in the “face of the alarming rise in COVID-19 outbreaks”.
Last week, 120 new aged care homes reported an outbreak, taking the number of aged care homes managing an outbreak up to 857 – or 31 percent of Australian facilities.
With 223 resident deaths in aged care over the last two weeks, Mr Sadler said an available surge workforce is paramount to protecting older people in residential aged care, home care, and community care.
Mr Sadler said, “It is disappointing that the government has not made an additional commitment in relation to surge workforce given the peak of this current wave is expected to hit in the next few weeks.
“At the beginning of this year we had aged care providers on their knees, many with up to 30 per cent of their workforce ill or close contacts and unavailable to work.”
Mr Sadler was grateful that the ADF will still be available until mid-August, but said he would like this period to be extended.