The new government should make a submission to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) in support of higher aged care wages, Health Services Union (HSU) national president Gerard Hayes has told The Sydney Morning Herald.
Making a submission to the work value case, which calls for a 25% increase in aged care wages, must be Labor’s “first priority”, Hayes declared.
Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers has committed to making a submission to support an increase in the minimum wage, but has yet to comment on a submission for higher aged care wages.
But Chalmers has warned the budget position is “dire”. Many Australians will face financial hardship amid rising interest rates, climbing inflation and stagnant wages growth, he cautioned.
The aged care sector is struggling to attract and retain enough aged care workers, leading to severe staff shortages. Border closures due to the pandemic have exacerbated the problem.
Recent figures show that one quarter of all aged care shifts are going unfilled.
Earlier this year, defence forces were called in to help struggling aged care homes.
As many as 75% of aged care workers say they are planning to leave the sector, indicating the situation may worsen.
Aged care workers are paid as little as $22 per hour, meaning many are forced to take on a second or third job to make ends meet.
“I would be seeing pens put to paper as we speak,” said Hayes, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
“This is not a matter of ‘hurry up and wait’.
“Time is of the essence to be able to put in that submission to be able to give effect to the government’s position to fully support the outcome of the case.”
The FWC has been in hearings into the unions’ case to increase wages by 25%, the equivalent of about $5 an hour. Hearings are expected to begin again in July.
The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that a spokesperson for acting prime minister Richard Marles said Labor is “determined to change aged care in this country for the better”.
“This will be a key priority of this government and key priority of the responsible minister, especially given the years of neglect,” the spokesperson said.
United Workers Union aged care director Carolyn Smith, who led aged care workers in strikes earlier this month over poor pay and conditions, agreed the submission must be prioritised, The Sydney Morning Herald has reported.
She suggested the government should make the submission in time for it to be examined during hearings later this year.
Aged care operators are calling for migration incentives to attract aged care workers to Australia.
However, Hayes said though migration will be a factor in boosting the aged care workforce, he cautioned against creating a situation in which workers could be exploited, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.