Academics and unions are pushing to give aged care workers access to a stable roster of shifts and to be given appropriate notice of a new shift to ensure they can balance their work commitments with their health and wellbeing.
Many aged care workers can have their workdays change from week to week, month to month, due to variable rosters which have proven to impact other areas of their lives outside of work.
Experts are getting behind the idea of “roster justice”, aimed to provide aged care workers with stable shifts in the form of a predictable roster each week.
Workers would also need to be given enough time and notice to accept a shift when one needs to be covered.
Doctor Gemma Beale at Flinders University’s Australian Industrial Transformation Institute said that unstable rosters are often seen in aged care and workers need to be provided with standard minimum hours and advanced notice of shifts. This would ideally be at least one fortnight in advance.
“There is a wealth of research that shows long-term insecure work can have serious negative impacts on workers’ health and wellbeing,” Dr Beale explained.
“[These impacts are seen] through health-related behaviours including diet, exercise, and sleep and the impact it can have on your sense of control. Through your ability to plan, socialise, and perform caring roles.
“This can range from your ability to make and attend medical appointments, pick your kids up from school, or simply have shared time-off with loved ones.”
The financial toll of unpredictable work also greatly impacts aged care workers as it can alter how much money they can earn each week.
Many aged care workers are employed casually and are expected to be on standby to pick up shifts, meaning they are not protected by the benefits of permanent work, such as sick or annual leave.
Aged Care Director at the United Workers Union (UWU), Carolyn Smith, said this type of rostering is causing aged care workers to leave the sector as providers have been rostering to maximise profit instead of addressing workforce shortages.
“Providers will say they have to roster this way because occupancy can vary – if a resident passes on, they need to be able to adjust staff numbers accordingly. However, we think it is just another way of maximising profits,” Ms Smith said.
“We have seen better rostering practices since the workforce shortages due to the pandemic. This shows providers could have been doing this all along.”
Government data showed over two-thirds of all casual workers in Australia are not guaranteed a minimum number of hours each week.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data also showed that roughly one in six Australians work on shifts and more than one in five are usually required to be on call or standby.
Relying on fluctuating income can make aged care workers uneasy and anxious about their financial security and freedom.
“Even in weeks where workers have earned ‘enough’, [workers] might be worried about spending any money on social commitments or otherwise in case their next pay cycle is insufficient,” said Dr Beale.
Employment Minister Tony Burke gave a speech at the National Press Club last month and the first reading speech of the Government’s Industrial Relations Bill where he flagged changes to make job security for aged care workers an objective of the Act.
The Bill outlined a limit on consecutive contracts for aged care workers and supported their right to ask for more flexible working arrangements.