The Fair Work Commission has made an interim ruling to raise some aged care workers’ wages by 15% in an attempt to attract more workers to the sector and fix systemic problems, which has generated mixed reviews from industry key players.
The pay increase will apply to workers who directly care for people in nursing homes, but not administrative staff or lifestyle workers, including kitchen, laundry and maintenance staff.
In a decision released on Friday, the full bench of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) said the pay rise to the Aged Care Award, the Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Industry Award (SCHADS) and the Nurses Award wages was “plainly justified by work value reasons” and would be covered by the Federal Government.
The Fair Work Commission recognised in its interim decision that care work “has been historically undervalued and the reason for that undervaluation is likely to be gender-based”.
Aged care peak bodies and unions have welcomed the decision as a good “first step” to reforming the sector in line with recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, but have concerns about whether it is enough to make impactful change.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) said more needs to be done to retain and recruit staff to the under-resourced sector, but were pleased the FWC clarified that more could be done.
The Health Services Union launched the ‘work value’ case with the FWC to see a 25% increase for aged care workers, and the ANMF backed them.
“Whilst the ANMF had sought a 25% increase to minimum rates across the board for all relevant aged care employees, this interim pay increase now paves the way for us to keep advocating to get the very best wages aged care workers deserve,” ANMF Assistant Federal Secretary, Lori-Anne Sharp, said.
“The ANMF and its members have been fighting long and hard to improve pay and conditions in a severely undervalued industry… Aged care workers are predominately female and some of the lowest-paid workers in the country.”
Minister for Aged Care, Anika Wells, said this pay increase was “essential” to ensure men and women were being paid equally in Australia.
“One of the main causes of the gender pay gap is low pay and poor conditions in care sectors like aged care, where the majority of workers are women,” she said.
“We need to bring workers back to the aged care sector and fill the staff shortages caused by nine years of neglect.”
Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Tom Symondson, said this wage increase decision was key to achieving successful aged care reform but hoped future industry announcements would provide benefits to the aged care workers who missed out this time.
“We note the decision does not cover staff not involved in direct care such as kitchen, laundry, recreation activities and administrative staff, and we look forward to a further decision by the Commission which addresses their pay,” said Mr Symondson.
“We look forward to working with the relevant unions and the Government on the implementation and timing of this important decision so that funding from the Government flows at the same time as the pay increase.
“This decision also helps recognise the incredible value that aged care workers provide to older people.”
National Seniors’ Chief Advocate, Ian Henschke, added that improving wages was “critical to attracting and retaining staff”, following estimates from the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) which suggested 65,000 workers leave the aged care sector each year.
“This interim decision to award a 15% increase is a good first step on the road to fixing staffing problems,” Mr Henschke explained.
“The safety of older Australians receiving care depends on a quality workforce with sufficient workers to meet the goals to improve the hours of care.”
Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, agreed that better wages will lead to better staffing and a better level of care.
“The Government delivered on its commitment to make a submission on this case and we will fund the outcome,” he said.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described aged care workers as heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic when he took to social media to announce the pay increase.
“These workers are the heroes of the pandemic,” Mr Albanese wrote on Twitter.
“They deserve this.”
As this is an interim outcome of the Fair Work case for aged care wage increases, it is likely more changes will be made in the new year.