Aged Care Minister The Hon Greg Hunt provided a comprehensive overview of the government’s response to the aged care royal commission during his address
But in questions afterwards, Moderator Peter Mares, from Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership, said the most persistent question coming through from ACSA members about the budget is, “What about wages?”
“The vast bulk of the $17.7 billion will ultimately end up paying staff,” Hunt replied. “That’s what that funding is intended to do.
“There are the direct retention bonuses of $2,700 and $3,700,” he added.
“When you ask what $6.5 billion in home care packages is doing, it’s paying staff, it’s paying more staff and better wages,” Hunt continued.
Mares interrupted to say that if wages don’t rise, there won’t be enough staff.
Hunt said the $3.2 billion for the $10 per day supplement and $3.9 billion for care minutes will contribute to the “capacity” to inject funds into both more staff and better pay for existing staff.
But Mares said many hope the $10 per day will be spent on things like better food, and he went on to ask if the government would support the Health Services Union’s push for a 25% pay rise for aged care workers through the Fair Work Commission (FWC).
Hunt said the government will respond and assist with the FWC case, but his patience was wearing thin.
“I’m a little surprised, Peter,” Hunt said.
“This is an enormous investment and it provides opportunities on every front.
Mares replied that he was simply asking the questions coming through to him from ACSA members.
“My point was that the royal commission should collaborate on a work value case, and others get paid more – like in disability – and until you have higher wages, it’s very difficult to attract the staff.”
“Hands off approach not sustainable”
Mares also asked the Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, about aged care wages.
Butler said Labor’s biggest concern about the budget is there is “very little in it for the workforce”.
“The government has said nothing about wages,” he said.
“The idea that the government can wipe its hands [of the issue of aged care wages] and say it’s nothing to do with us, what workers are paid in a sector that is so obviously a public good for which the Commonwealth has a responsibility, I don’t think it washes anymore.
“I think the government should be at the table and starting to do the hard work about what is the pathway for wages.”
The government needs to determine a “sustainable pathway” for wages that reflects the complexity of the work aged care workers do, and that reflects the market they operate in.
“I think this hands off approach is not sustainable,” Butler said.
Butler also said he couldn’t understand why the government did not support the recommendation to have a registered nurse on duty in aged care facilities 24/7, and why only the first phase of the minimum care minutes recommended by the royal commission were picked up, and to be implemented 15 months later than recommended.
The 2021 Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA) National Summit will be held as an online event from 17-21 May. For further information please visit: www.acsasummit.com.au
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