Aug 05, 2020

Where’s my retention bonus? One in four aged care homes have failed to apply


The government’s aged care ‘retention bonus’ has been plagued by controversy from the outset, and is widely seen to have been bungled by the government.

The Minister for Aged Care, Richard Colbeck, announced the aged care worker retention bonus back in March: a $800 payment for residential aged care staff and $600 for home care workers.

“We know we are asking a lot of this critical workforce as we face this unprecedented health emergency,” he said at the time. “Their work practices are changing – and today’s announcement is in recognition of this.”

But there was immediate dissatisfaction that staff in residential aged care facilities received a higher rate than aged care workers, and also question marks over the exclusion of other aged care workers who provide essential services in nursing homes. 

Why were the hard-working cleaners, cooks and laundry staff, to name a few, who are so essential to the smooth running of an aged care facility, left out?

Now a Senate Select Committee inquiry has heard the government has only received 1,500 applications for the retention bonus, and 584 facilities are yet to apply for the financial assistance package.

The next round of payments – a further 500 applications worth $48.3 million in total – will be paid on 14 August.

As of 31 July, $54.7 million had been paid out by the government to aged care staff under the retention bonus package.

Aged care staff are waiting

At HelloCare, many aged care workers have complained to us about the payment.

Many say they haven’t received the payment, and this latest revelation that 584 facilities have yet to apply for the payment could explain why.

Others have complained they have received the payment, but once it has been taxed, the final amount they receive is minimal.

The government’s backflip on the tax treatment of the bonus is another example of the government’s bungling.

When first announced, the payment was promoted as tax free. But when further details were released a couple of months later, it became apparent the payment would attract income tax after all.

Members of HelloCare’s Aged Care Worker Support Group say their payment has been taxed at the highest marginal tax rate. A $640 payment was reduced to $360 after tax. 

If the government thinks aged care staff providing direct care to those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 will be enticed to remain working in the industry by these payments, they should think again. Fortunately for us, for the residents, for our communities, aged care staff don’t do it for the money. They do it because they care.

But that is not good enough.

If there’s one thing this crisis has shown, it is that this undervalued workforce, often underpaid, with little job security and inadequate training, are absolutely essential. The government must be more thoughtful and effective in the support it provides these workers, and structural and systemic change is required.

Aged care employers must play their role too

Michael Lye, deputy secretary of the Department of Health, told the inquiry the department will be looking into why more providers haven’t applied for the bonus. 

“The department will be engaging with the sector… to ensure people who haven’t taken (the payment) up, do so. We obviously want facilities who haven’t applied, to apply,” he said.

With over $100 million remaining in the $234.9 million allocated to the package, the inquiry’s chair, Katy Gallagher, proposed the payment could be extended to other aged care workers, such as cooks and cleaners, who have been excluded from the payment so far.

Employers, at the very least, must play their role in ensuring aged care workers receive all the support – in this case the aged care worker retention bonus – they are entitled to. It’s the least they can do.


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  1. I believe it was a mistake to expect the employer to sign up for the retention money. They probably feel this is just more work for them. But to set the record straight. I worked in aged care as I believed from what I had heard it was a great job to help the elderly. I had visions of holding hands with them, hugging them etc. Had no idea the staff would be so horrible when I first started. I believed it would be a fantastic job with wonderful staff and people who were there because they really wanted to and management looked after their staff. I was so disillusioned! I saw bullying every day and I remember being told to hurry up as we don’t have time to talk to the residents. I cannot believe I lasted as long as I did. But you see I looked above and beyond that and managed to stay for years! It can be a wonderful job. You just have to wait for the management to change and most of the bullies to leave and before you know it life is great. Yep it took years but from past experience the bad apples always end up leaving in the end and then you become the great positive influence and get to guide and train the new staff and encourage them. You get to spend a couple of minutes reassuring your scared residents and holding their hands and hugging them when you feel it is right and nobody can tell you to hurry up anymore. I love my job and see my reidents as my other family. I have never bullied new staff or ganged up on them. I train them and give them my experience and tips. To which they are grateful. I don’t withhold information that we need to to do our job properly and teach them how to use the computer. But with all this I do have bills to pay like most and I do sometimes feel trapped in my job. I also feel that it is not always the love of caring for these elderly darlings the only reason people stay in a job. It is often that there is nothing much out there and when you have bills to pay you stay longer than what you would like. Especially when you are older than most. Alot of staff are working in aged care like any other job because they have a family and bills to pay, not just for the love of the job which still has it’s low points.


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