Should home care workers miss out on being paid for late cancellations?

Susan’s thoughts immediately turned to her pay packet.

Aged care workers are among the lowest paid employees in the country, so every appointment counts. 

Susan called her employer, who said she would only be paid for the appointment if she was already on her way when the client cancelled. 

In the end, Susan’s fears were realised – she was not paid for the cancelled appointment.

Lauren Hutchins, from the Health Services Union’s (HSU) Aged Care Branch, told HelloCare the award requires much more notice than that. 

The award requires clients who cancel or change their rostered home care appointments to inform the employee of the change by 5pm the day prior. If the client doesn’t cancel within that tim frame, they have to pay – and the employee, the home care worker, gets paid.

Tim Hicks, General Manager Policy, Advocacy and Advisory, Leading Aged Services Australia (LASA), told HelloCare, “If they are not notified before 5pm on the day before the period of service, they would still be eligible for payment under the award.

“Full-time/part-time employees are usually paid or redeployed for the lost shift.”

However, Hutchins has seen that aged care providers often don’t charge their clients for late cancellations for fear of losing the client and in an effort to “remain competitive” in a competitive marketplace.

Casual staff must try to negotiate their own terms

Susan wrote about her non-payment for the late cancellation in a post on HelloCare’s Aged Care Worker Support Group on Facebook. Other members of the group revealed a range of policies in their workplaces in relation to cancellations, from requiring 24 hours’ notice to only requiring an hour’s notice. 

While permanent employees have a roster and there’s a requirement for those hours to be paid for, it’s less clear cut for casuals.

“Usually, a provider will at the very least pay for the first hour of a cancelled service for a casual worker,” Hicks said. 

“Casual workers need to be aware of the terms in the hiring contract or arrangement they agreed to, particularly if they are utilising a private hiring platform.”

Staff with concerns about their working conditions should talk to their employer, explained Hicks.

“Demand for home care workers is very high, and there are many providers offering above award entitlements to attract desperately needed staff, including paying casual staff for cancelled shifts,” he said.

Home care’s poor working conditions

Hutchins believes, in many ways, working conditions in home care are more difficult than in residential aged care.

“Split shifts” – blocks in the middle of the day where workers are not paid – are common, putting “a lot of pressure” on home care staff. 

“Low-hour contracts” are another significant problem in aged care, with staff guaranteed, for example, only four hours of work a week, said Hutchins.

“And then on top of that, you can be told with an hour’s notice that you’re no longer required,” she said.

Cafe staff, who don’t have anywhere near the same level of responsibility as aged care workers, are paid as much as $29 per hour, whereas a starting rate in aged care is about $22 per hour.

If the wages in cafes and restaurants are significantly higher than aged care, “then we will never meet the need in terms of workforce,” said Hutchins.

“You can understand why it’s really hard to attract people to the sector,” she added.

Workforce crisis

A report last year by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia estimated that Australia’s aged care workforce will have a shortage of more than 400,000 workers by 2050 without government intervention.

Australia will need at least an extra 17,000 direct aged care workers every year over the next decade “to meet basic standards of care”. 

Low wages, poor training and the lack of career progression combined with “negative public perceptions” of the industry are stopping people from entering the sector, according to CEDA.

The aged care sector will need to offer higher wages and better conditions “in line with comparable sectors” and for the government to pull “all available levers,” including increased sector funding, to ensure an adequate supply of workers, CEDA said.

Staff shortages in regional areas are particularly dire. 

Balancing the needs of clients, staff and business

Hicks said older people cancel home care services “regularly”, for example, if they go into hospital or to a day clinic, for medical appointments, for social outings or they go shopping, if they forget they won’t be home, or they transfer to another provider, or if they go into residential respite care.

This poses a “challenge” for providers, Hicks admitted. 

“Providers need to balance their obligations to both clients and staff, whilst ensuring their viability as a whole,” he said.

Cancellations are happening “much more often” during the COVID-19 crisis, Hicks noted. “Clear communication between all parties is vital to getting through this difficult time.”

Erosion of working conditions

Susan’s skills and experience as a care worker mean her services are in high demand. Not being paid for the late cancellation was the last straw with the aged care sector, and she has taken on a new role as a disability worker.

She has been hired as a subcontractor with a large care provider doing three 12-hour shifts per week.

Hutchins warned that subcontracting with regular hours “rings alarm bells” and could be an indication of sham contracting.

Employer-controlled working hours are generally an indication of employee status, whereas contractors have control over the hours they work. However, there are a range of factors that determine if a worker is a contractor or employee, and all factors need to be taken into account when determining the correct definition of the working relationship.

“Absolutely,” she replied when HelloCare asked her if a permanent role would be her preference.

‘Out of sight, out of mind’

Aged care employers support more competitive pay and conditions for staff, Hicks said. LASA and other members of the Australian Aged Care Collaboration have called on the government to address the problem of pay and conditions in aged care.

HSU Secretary, Gerard Hayes, told HelloCare the “uberisation” of home care through technology companies that “skim money off the top” and “treat workers really badly” is “dangerous” and “frightening”.

Ultimately, it’s older Australians who suffer. 

“You get the result you get for the people who need care,” he said.

Susan said she is “sad” to leave aged care after 15 years, but found working in home care “awful” and “unfulfilling.” 

Despite her extensive experience, she was mostly just cleaning. Her roster was changed at random, she worked in extreme heat at times, and she was subject to verbal abuse. 

Not being paid for the late cancellation was a step too far.

Another passionate, experienced aged care worker has left the sector.

*Not her real name.

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  1. I think every person providing a service should be paid for late cancellations. It is a lot of money to miss in the pay packet…no matter who you are. The cost of living, and that is without the small extras, is still is high. I don’t have human kids, my kids are my dogs. Just one visit to the vet, hair cuts, etc etc etc is expensive. Thank God I don’t have to educate, clothe, etc etc etc human children as well.

  2. It is not ok for Home Care workers to bear the cost of late cancellations.

    Explaining to a client that the Home Care Package cost and the client contribution is still required for late cancellations can be a difficult conversation. However employees should not bear the cost of late cancellations.

    If Aged Care Providers want to have good staff they need to be good employers.

  3. Sadly this is old news.
    This stuff has been going on for years in the community sector.
    As a community support worker I have been subjected to physical and verbal abuse too many times to count. I’ve even ended up in the emergency department from physical abuse by a client.
    The list of problems is endless, all the while earning less than $24 an hour and even then having to chase my pay as there are so many dodgy providers out there. It could take weeks to get money owed. It’s infuriating.
    It’s true that aged care workers are leaving the industry in droves to work in disabilities, but the problem now is far greater.
    Now disability support workers are leaving and being replaced by aged care workers and nurses, neither of which are trained in spinal care, aged care workers aren’t trained bowel care or solo hoisting.
    And believe it or not, nurses are cannot look after quads or anyone who is immobile very well at all.
    A quad or a person that’s immobile that has spent time in hospital for any reason usually come out with rashes, are unclean and sometimes come out worse than they went in.
    So now the disability sector is full of untrained worker’s.
    It’s just a matter of time before a disaster strikes. Who’s responsible?
    The employer ?
    The employee ?
    Disability support workers don’t just do minor stuff, we deal with very complicated health issues that even nurses don’t deal with on a regular basis.
    Ask a nurse what disreflexia is and how to deal with it, chances are they have no clue.
    Ask an aged care worker to prep for bowel care and see if they know what to do, or peg feed, how about suctioning a client.
    Let me say this again, it’s been going on for years and is huge at the moment and I’m just waiting on a big disaster to happen, and it will.
    Money is important and everyone deserves to be paid fairly, but what about the clients put at risk ?
    Don’t get me wrong, there are so many fantastic workers out there that deserve to be treated better in all sectors of community work. 99% are angels treated like dirt.
    I could go on forever, there are so many problems.

  4. Yes I just got told today 15/11/23 in a company that I’ve been working hard in for the last 2yrs 4 months as a casual that my client whom cancelled todays shift and I was texted at 11.30am for that clients 1.30pm shift that they had cancelled, I was thinking they’d fill it. I contacted admin and no they had no one so I thought like in the past this year similar incident as it was cancelled today that I’d still get paid . Nope was told by after hrs when I called them today to address it I was told casual only need a hrs notice. Hmmm, so I’ve sent my dsl a email re this as I’m sure many other casual also wouldn’t realize this. So I lost 1 hr pay. Tomorrow I have another client that’s cancelled today and I informed the admin girl that I need that space filled as I need the pay. She said she’ll note on my system that to have that filled. I’ve always thought 24 hrs notice a client must give but didn’t ever think this was legite when I’ve been paid before. No not good as many are struggling and they are screaming for staff members but don’t give staff members who can do the shifts the work and this 1 hr notice isn’t fair at all.

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