The Victorian Government’s innovative paid sick leave trial for casual and insecure workers, including personal care workers employed in private aged care, will strengthen the sector’s ability to protect vulnerable residents from illness, according to the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (Victorian Branch).
Yesterday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced Australia’s first paid sick leave scheme for casual workers will be trialled in Victoria under a two-year $245.6 million government-funded pilot.
Eligible casual workers will be given five days of paid sick leave per year under the trial, at the annual national minimum wage of $20.33 per hour.
Workers are now able to register for the two-year pilot program, and it is anticipated that more than 150,000 workers will be eligible in its first phase.
Occupations included in the first phase include hospitality workers, food trades workers and preparation assistants such as chefs and kitchen hands, supermarket and supply chain workers, retail and sales assistants, aged and disability care workers, cleaners and laundry workers and security guards.
In a statement, the ANMF (Vic Branch) said the private aged care workforce has an overreliance on its casual persona care worker workforce, with most working for multiple employers to make ends meet.
A permanent personal care worker (with a Certificate III) earns about $26 per hour, while a casual worker earns $31.50. Under enterprise agreements, permanent full-time personal care workers are entitled to 12 personal leave days in their first year, 14 days from their second year, and 21 days per year after five years of employment, the branch said.
ANMF (Victorian Branch) Assistant Secretary Paul Gilbert labelled the trial a meaningful response to the “learning the lessons of the pandemic rhetoric”.
“The private aged care workforce’s casual profile has played a major role in the sector’s inability to prevent and control COVID-19 outbreaks,” Mr Gilbert said.
“The roster and budget flexibility that employers seek by having a predominantly casual workforce has become a major health and safety issue.”
While the union would like to see the trial extended to cover private aged care nurses, Mr Gilbert said that personal care workers make up the vast majority of the sector’s casualised workforce with the riskiest job security.
“Personal care workers have been critical frontline pandemic workers but despite their valuable work they are some of the lowest paid workers in our healthcare system and live pay to pay,” he said.
“Families to feed and mortgages, rent and bills to pay meant these workers were forced to make difficult decisions about going to work when they were sick. We’re aware many aged care employers encouraged their carers to attend work even if they were sick.”
The five days of leave entitlements will renew each year but will not roll over if unused. They can be claimed by staff working across multiple casual jobs.
Ultimately, Premier Andrews hopes the federal government will consider a national approach for a paid sick leave scheme that system that covers casuals and contractors.
“When people have nothing to fall back on, they make a choice between the safety of their workmates and feeding their family,” Premier Andrews said.
“The ultimate decision they make isn’t wrong – what’s wrong is they’re forced to make it at all.
“The last two years have shown just how difficult that choice can be for casual workers – so we’re doing what we can to make sure it’s a choice they don’t have to make.”