Surge in union membership follows gains on wages and staffing.
The long-awaited aged care pay increase has motivated more staff to join the NSWNMA at the Albury nursing home where AiN Lannelle Bailey is employed.
Lannelle, who is secretary of her NSWNMA workplace branch, spoke to The Lamp in July, when staff were about to receive the equivalent of a 15 per cent pay increase.
“Everyone is looking forward to the pay rise, but they’re a bit on edge not knowing if they will be paid the correct amount,” she said.
“However, they know the union will take up their case if necessary.
“Workers know it will be a lot easier to get their correct entitlements if they band together with other union members.
“Our workplace has a lot of anomalies regarding rates and classifications and it’s very hard to address these issues if you are just one person taking up your case with management.”
Lannelle said it is important to strengthen workers’ bargaining power by building branch membership.
“As a branch, we keep as many people in the loop as possible, whether they are members or not.
“We’ve been getting a lot of questions about the pay rise. It’s a good opportunity to show people the value of union membership.”
She says the branch has also been strengthened by recent visits from NSWNMA organisers.
“Just the start” of recognition
Lannelle regards recent union gains, such as the 15 per cent pay increase and mandatory RNs on all shifts 24/7, as “just the start” of a process towards adequate recognition of the value of aged care work.
“Our work is very intense; an AiN can be responsible for up to 15 people, and we have to get them up every morning, take them to the toilet and shower them.
“We don’t have enough time to meet the needs of all residents and they sometimes get upset, so you have to manage that.
“It is a heavy workload and a big responsibility.”
Lannelle’s workplace is covered by an enterprise agreement (EA) that expired one year ago.
A successful union campaign for the next EA will be vital if workers are to cope with inflation and rising interest rates, she said.
“Our EA pay rates have not increased since 2021 and staff are asking branch officials when the rates will increase and when they will receive back pay, because it is so tough to survive on our current wage rates.”
Next step: minimum care minutes
Lannelle welcomes the introduction of mandatory minimum care minutes for aged care due to start in October this year.
This includes 40 minutes of mandatory RN care per resident per day.
“The RN quotient at our workplace will double – assuming they can be recruited.
“More RNs would relieve pressure on care staff who usually don’t get enough training to recognise and respond to residents’ clinical issues.
“Without adequate training, inexperienced care staff often lack the confidence and skills to detect changes in residents’ behaviour that might warrant further investigation – and then to raise the matter with a senior AiN or nurse.
“Lack of staff education is a big issue we need to tackle.
“As big corporations take over multiple facilities, the role of an on-site educator is often replaced by someone working out of head office and moving around various workplaces.
“That limits staff access to the educator and how much the educator can actually achieve.”