The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has demanded that the new Federal Government reverse a decision to scrap the COVID-19 leave disaster payment.
The payment is seen as an important support for frontline workers over the continuing pandemic, including aged care workers.
This disaster payment ceased on July 1 but previously provided pay to frontline and aged care workers who were in a COVID-19 isolation period, which protected vulnerable people from the virus as workers would not need to work while sick.
However, the ANMF is concerned that scrapping this payment, which has both supported aged care workers with COVID-19 and those who were close contacts, could result in workers staying at their job because they can’t afford not to work.
ANMF federal secretary, Annie Butler, said the payment needs to be reinstated so the workforce and consumers will be less at risk of catching the virus.
“We know that many workers have already run out of sick leave, they have run out of other options for leave. If they are not supported… we are very concerned that we are going to go straight back to two and a half years ago where workers weren’t supported to isolate when they [were] COVID-positive and they go to work and spread the infection further,” explained Ms Butler.
“So our other concern is… if a whole lot of restrictions continue to be loosened [and] we don’t facilitate the remaining public health measures that we have, we are going to potentially just add further burden and put further risks on the health system being able to cope with the consequences.”
Ms Butler said she spoke to the Federal Government last week about the issue, however, the Government was “non-committal” about reinstating the disaster payment for frontline workers.
The Federal Government told Ms Butler that the decision to scrap the payment was made by the former Government and that the payment couldn’t continue forever.
Ms Butler explained that her alarm about the issue was raised for a number of reasons, including that no unions were consulted about why the disaster payment was finishing and that she had concerns about workers not being supported to isolate if COVID-positive.
Everyone is required to isolate for seven days if COVID-positive in Australia, no matter which State or Territory they are in, which of course extends to aged care workers.
Ms Butler said that while there have been safety measures put in place to protect workers and the people they care for – such as free and mandatory vaccinations, COVID-19 screening to enter aged care, and ongoing hygiene measures – this doesn’t help workers for when they actually get COVID-19.
“We need more than just vaccinations in our strategies to deal with COVID overall,” said Ms Butler.
Previously, the disaster payment provided between $450 to $750 a week to workers in COVID isolation.
Ms Butler believes there is also a potential it may encourage some workers to leave the sector, as “they need some sort of respite rather than having to go through a whole other wave of COVID without support”.
ANMF intends to contact aged care peak bodies and providers about supporting the workforce if the Federal Government decides to not restart the disaster payment.
Peak body for aged care, Aged and Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA), and the Government were both contacted for comment but did not respond by publication.
The ANMF expects that the Federal Government will make a decision about the disaster payment later this week.