The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) and the Health Services Union (HSU) have made landmark applications with the Fair Work Commission for a 25% increase to award wages for aged care workers.
The fast-approaching hearing for the aged care Work Value case will begin on 26 April and run until 11 May.
What pay increase are unions pushing for?
Three applications are seeking to increase wages by 25% for aged care workers, covered by the three aged care related awards, including the Nurses Award.
The applications are calling for a 25% wage increase for:
- AINs, ENs, RNs and NPs working under the Nurses Award who work in aged care
- PCWs, general and administrative service employees and food services employees under the Aged Care Award
- Home care workers in aged care under the Social, Home Care and Disability Services Industry Award
The applications are also seeking to improve career progression for AINs and PCWs and implement improved career pathways for PCWs by giving greater recognition to their experience and qualifications.
Why are unions making the applications?
The ANMF is requesting the 25% increase on the basis that the work of aged care workers has never been properly valued, and that it is significantly undervalued.
The union believes current award rates do not adequately reflect the value of the work. In addition, it argues that since current award rates were set in the Modern Awards, the nature of the work has changed considerably and become more complex, requiring greater skill and responsibility under more difficult conditions.
Additionally, residents enter aged care later in life with greater acuity, are more frail and have more complex health needs, the ANMF says. In turn, people being cared for at home have greater support needs and more complex conditions that require care.
The ANMF is asking the FWC to examine the work of aged care staff, how it has changed and how and why it has been systemically undervalued for decades.
It is arguing that the main reason for this is the undervaluation of caring work – predominantly performed by women.
The ANMF contents that the evidence will show that the work is undervalued and, therefore, an increase of award wages is justified.
Tellingly, the view that the work of aged care workers is underpaid and undervalued has been confirmed in many reviews. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety found that aged care workers are underpaid and undervalued and recommended that unions make work value applications.
Many in the sector also agree that without an increase in wages, it will become increasingly difficult to attract and retain suitably qualified and skilled staff.
How will unions prove that aged care work is undervalued?
The ANMF has filed 28 witness statements to support its case.
It will rely on members working as AINs, PCWs, ENs, RNs and Nurse Practitioners and Educators to describe the work they do on a daily basis and the challenges of the nature of that work.
Union officials have also provided statements based on their experience and knowledge in the sector and will outline how the award and bargaining systems have not resulted in proper wage outcomes for aged care workers.
The ANMF will also call on experts to explain how and why the work done in female dominated industries is undervalued.
The statements paint a compelling story of why, and how, aged care work is undervalued and of the dedication, care and skill that is brought every day to the care of older people.
The ANMF evidence and submissions can be found here
The role of gender bias
One of the ANMF’s experts conducted an in depth analysis of the work aged care workers perform, identifying that invisible skills get taken for granted, or are viewed as inherent – in large part because of our gender bias about women’s work.
The evidence shows that naming and recognising invisible skills results in seeing the true skill and value of the work.
The study found:
- Aged care work requires high level problem solving and solution sharing skills
- The effort to undertake the work is considerable and is increasing – such as needing to maintain a calm, respectful and happy environment for residents while being constantly rushed by the pace of work
- Skills are used under conditions of heavy responsibility for quality of life and death
- The skills are under-recognised across all classifications
- The fundamental explanation for the invisibility and under-recognition of the skills of aged care nursing and nursing-related work is that the work is predominantly done by women
Current award rates and public sector rates
Bargaining in the aged care sector has not achieved the same results as in the public sector. The ANMF says this is because we have not valued aged care and older people, it is a more fragmented industry, and wages are closely tied to Commonwealth funding.
Comparing the national public sector average earned and the Nurses Award rate shows:
- An RN at the top of the scale (RN1 Level 8) earns on average 48% less under the Award
- An EN top of the scale – 33% less
- An AIN Cert III – 21% less
- National public sector average (rates at August 2021) v Nurses Award- rates at 1 July 2021
- An AIN Cert III top of scale $28.35 v $23.67 difference of $4.68 an hour or 21%
- EN top of scale $33.69 v $25.36 difference of $8.33 an hour or 33%
- RN Level 1.1 $34.33 v $25.79 difference of $8.74 an hour – or 34%
- RN Level 1.8 $45.90 v 30.99 difference of $14.91 an hour or 48%
How will the hearing run?
Key employer representatives in the aged care sector have filed evidence and submissions in response to the unions’ case.
They agree to some extent that a wage increase is justified, yet, do not go far enough and even oppose the unions’ case in some areas.
For this reason, the ANMF is preparing its witnesses to give evidence and refining its arguments to put to the FWC as the hearing looms.
To date, the Commonwealth has not participated in the case.
The Labor Party has pledged it will pay any increase ordered by the Fair Work Commission, if elected.
The ANMF will keep members up to date on the progress of the hearing in coming weeks.
Find out more about the Aged care Work value case here