Introduction by Croakey: The Federal Government’s promised cash bonus for aged care workers between now and May is a short-term political “fix” designed to cover over a long-term policy failure, according to Emeritus Professor Hal Swerissen and Professor Stephen Duckett.
Nor does it address workforce issues caused by the Commonwealth’s market model for aged care that has also led to high and increasing casualisation and job insecurity, particularly in home care, they wrote in The Conversation yesterday.
Meanwhile, health and aged care policy analyst Charles Maskell-Knight provides a telling contrast below between the perks available to Members of Parliament and the income of aged care workers.
Charles Maskell-Knight writes:
At his National Press Club speech on 1 February the Prime Minister announced two bonus payments of up to $400 to aged care workers. The detailed announcement by Minister Greg Hunt said the Government will pay aged care workers employed on 28 February 2022 a bonus of up to $400, with another up to $400 to be paid to workers employed on 28 April 2022.
The decision was widely criticised after it was released to the media on 31 January as “too little, too late”. It is pitifully meagre.
The Aged Care Royal Commission recommended (rec. 84) that employers, unions and the government should collaborate on an approach to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to vary wages rates to reflect the work value of aged care workers. The Government “noted” the recommendation, and undertook to provide the FWC with information and data as required.
All assistance short of actual help, in other words.
Just before Christmas last year a group including three unions and three major provider organisations lodged a joint statement with the FWC in support of the work value case.
The group agreed:
…that wages in the aged care sector need to be significantly increased because the work of aged care workers has been historically undervalued for a range of reasons and has not been properly assessed by the Fair Work Commission or any other industrial tribunal.
Minimum wages in awards need to be set according to the value of the work done by workers in aged care, recognising increases in the complexity of the nature of the work and skills and responsibility involved in doing the work and changes to the conditions under which work is done.”
It then went on to set out 23 reasons why wages should be increased to align with work value.
At present an aged care worker receives around $23 an hour, or $874 per week. This is about the same as people stacking shelves in supermarkets or toting supplies on a building site.
Anybody who has had any contact with the aged care system would agree that aged care workers need certificate level training in a range of often complex areas, as well as practical skills, empathy, and emotional resilience, not to mention the ability to accept responsibility.
Contrast and compare
Another way of thinking about aged care worker pay which might make sense to members of parliament is to think about it in terms of travelling allowance days. An MP from Queensland or WA who flies to Canberra on Sunday before a sitting week and returns home on Friday will receive travelling allowance of $291 a night for accommodation, meals, and incidentals. (Travel to and from work is paid for by the government separately.)
This means that for five nights the MP will receive $1,455 on top of their salary. An aged care worker on $23 an hour would need to work over eight days to earn as much. And the aged care worker would need to pay their own way to and from work!
So rather than accept the Royal Commission recommendation and work with the sector to address the substantive issue of inadequate pay, the Government is going to pay a couple of $400 bonuses.
Assume for the sake of argument that these are intended to “cover” two months (given the second will be paid two months after the first), this will amount to an extra $1.15 cents an hour for a full-time worker. But it will only be for the period ending on 28 April.
The Guardian reported on 1 February that one in five aged care workers is paying for their own rapid antigen test. Assuming that these workers are lucky enough to be able to source RATs for $15 each, the $400 will pay for tests three times a week for two months. This is not often enough to keep workers or residents safe.
Minister Hunt said that “aged care providers will apply for the payments and will pass on the assessment to employees”.
One can only hope that the Government has learned the lessons from Job Keeper, and will put in place a rigorous accountability regime to ensure that the funding is justified and does actually make its way into workers’ pay packets rather than executive bonuses.
The atmosphere inside the Government’s ivory tower must be very peculiar indeed if it genuinely believes that a once-off payment of $800 will make any difference to the workforce problems affecting aged care.
Charles Maskell-Knight PSM was a senior public servant in the Commonwealth Department of Health for over 25 years before retiring earlier this year. He worked as a senior adviser to the Aged Care Royal Commission in 2019-20.
Prime Minister’s address to National Press Club
Questions and answers following his address
See Croakey’s archive of stories on aged care.
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