Aged care pay rise is a massive achievement
It’s a win for the ages, but more work is needed to ensure the money ends up in the pockets of the deserved – our heroic aged care members.
During the pandemic the renowned publication Scientific American described aged care work as “one of the deadliest jobs” to be engaged in.
When COVID-19 hit, our aged care facilities were totally unprepared. They lacked personal protective equipment (PPE), adequate infectious disease training, access to frequent testing, and backup staff to cover for sick employees.
In many ways, aged care facilities were the epicentre of COVID-19 in Australia.
The pandemic revealed aged care’s “dirty little secret” to the community – the long-term neglect of the sector that had left residents and staff vulnerable during a health emergency.
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety did much to shine a light on this shameful situation and to chart a way forward.
One of its main recommendations was that aged care staff should receive a sizeable pay increase as (belated) reward and recognition for their undervalued and underpaid work, and to make the sector more appealing to attract desperately needed staff.
This recommendation evolved into a more concrete figure after the Fair Work Commission (FWC) heard a “work value” case brought by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation and other health unions.
The full bench of the FWC granted a 15 per cent increase for nurses and AiNs on the award.
The Albanese government steps up
The implementation of this figure required the federal government to step up and accept its responsibility, as the sector is financially under-pinned by federal government funding.
The Albanese government has now done so. It allocated $11.3 billion in the budget, to cover the pay increase. Significantly, it has provided sufficient funds so that aged care workers on enterprise agreements earning above-award wages can also receive the same increase in dollar terms as those on the award.
So far, so good. The royal commission, your union, the FWC and the federal government have acted so that aged care workers can finally be fairly paid for their crucial role in caring for Australia’s elderly.
It is also a brilliant and deserved reward for their tireless campaigning.
But there is one party left that must accept its responsibility before the pay rise can be fully implemented: employers.
For our aged care members on the award it is very straightforward – you are entitled to a 15 per cent pay rise from 1 July 2023.
For those on enterprise agreements earning above-award wages it is a bit more complicated, but you are still deserving of the 15 per cent award increase.
Employers need to be accountable
Although we are very excited the government has prioritised aged care with this remarkable pay rise, we have one lingering concern.
There is no explicit mechanism of accountability built into the funding to ensure that employers pass on the taxpayer-funded pay increase to aged care staff on enterprise agreements.
Some employers have committed to do so. We welcome that.
But we also need to be realistic and act accordingly. Wage theft in Australia in recent years has been rife, including in the aged care sector.
Over the last 30 years we’ve seen nursing home operators fail to pass on taxpayer funding intended for workers. With a long history of providers pocketing government funding as profits, we’ll need to hold them to account and ensure every cent ends up with workers.
Let’s be crystal clear: this is your money and you must be paid every cent.
We will continue to pressure the government to introduce stronger measures of accountability tied to the funding but in the meantime, we can shape our own destiny.
Let’s continue to build a strong union presence in the sector, which will give aged care members the power to keep employers honest.
If you know a colleague who isn’t a NSWNMA member yet, encourage them to join up now!