The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety found that wages and conditions in the aged care sector need to improve to ensure attraction and retention of a suitably skilled and qualified workforce.
In addition to recommending that unions bring work value applications in the Fair Work Commission, the Royal Commission also recommended the Aged Care Workforce Industry Council (ACWIC) lead the Australian government and the aged care sector to a consensus to support those applications.
The ANMF and other aged care sector unions have upheld their end of the bargain. Three applications are now on foot to increase wages by 25% for aged care workers, covered by the three aged care related awards, including the Nurses Award. In conjunction with making the applications, we requested ACWIC to act on the recommendation to help parties reach any consensus positions that would support the Work Value case.
As a result, ACWIC engaged former Fair Work Deputy President Anna Booth to convene stakeholder meetings to try and reach agreement on key evidence that would support the case that the work of aged care workers is undervalued. The first meeting, held in September 2021, was attended by representatives of the major employer groups, many providers, consumer groups and the applicant unions. The Commonwealth government advised that they would not be participating in these meetings.
In the following months, over a number of meetings, the parties worked hard to draft a document that reflected a range of significant consensus positions. At the conclusion of discussions, the Consensus Statement was circulated to all stakeholders who attended meetings, seeking endorsement of the Statement. In addition to the ANMF, HSU and UWU supporting the Statement, key employer representatives and consumer organisations have endorsed the Statement. We were very pleased to file the Consensus Statement with the Fair Work Commission in December 2021.
Here are some of the key points agreed:
- Stakeholders agree wages in the aged care sector need to be significantly increased because the work of aged care workers has been historically undervalued
- Minimum wages in awards need to be set according to the value of the work done, recognising increases in complexity of the work, skills and responsibility involved in the work and the changes to the conditions under which work is done
- Aged care consumers are entering aged care with more frailty, co-morbidities and acute care needs
- Expectations of RNs have increased markedly along with a shift of residents’ needs from low to high clinical care needs. At the same time, the number of ENs has decreased
- AINs and PCWs in residential and home care are performing increasingly complex work
- Wages in aged care need to be competitive to attract and retain the number of skilled workers needed to deliver safe and quality care
- Any increase in wages must be fully funded by the Federal government
Since filing the Consensus Statement, the aged care sector has again experienced the devastating effects of COVID-19 and pressure on the Federal government to address the crisis in aged care has continued to grow. There is no doubt that low wages, particularly compared to what a nurse can earn in the acute sector or at a vaccination hub, are contributing to the problems faced in attracting and retaining staff in aged care. Similarly, a care worker can earn more in the disability sector than in aged care.
The Federal government has continued to take a ‘hands off’ approach to the Work Value case and has made what appears to be only a begrudging statement that it will absorb any outcome of the case. What is needed is leadership and active participation in the case.
The Work Value case is listed for hearing in late April to early May. Over 100 witness statements from union members, officials and experts have been filed on behalf of the ANMF, HSU and UWU. They tell a compelling story of why and how the work is undervalued and of the dedication, care and skill that is brought every day to the care of older people. It is time for the Federal government to listen to the evidence. The Consensus Statement is a valuable starting point.