15 per cent aged care wage rise “not enough”

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Aged care workers are due for a 15 per cent pay rise following a decision by the Fair Work Commission to increase minimum wages.

The Commission has announced a further process to consider timing, possible further increases for these workers, and whether to also grant a pay rise for aged care administrative and support staff.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety tabled in March 2021 found that a ‘wages gap’ exists between aged care workers.

It said workers performing equivalent functions in the acute health sector and concluded that the ‘bulk of the aged care workforce does not receive wages and enjoy terms and conditions of employment that adequately reflect the important caring role they play.

Subsequently Recommendation 84 was to increase award wages. The Health Services Union (HSU) and Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) lobbied for a  25 per cent rise to the minimum wage for all aged care employees covered by the award.

This would have equated to roughly $5 per hour, but some health service bosses indicate the 15% increase was still too low. Average hourly wages in the sector are about $22 per hour.

Chris Mamarelis, chief executive of aged care provider Whiddon, told the Australian Financial Review, 15% simply wasn’t enough and the 25% rise sought would have got the hourly rate to a “respectable level where it should be.”

“Fifteen per cent is a down payment but nobody should be mistaken. This will not fix the crisis. We still have massive unfinished business in aged care,” he said.

Modelling for the Royal Commission suggests the number of direct care workers needed to maintain current staffing levels would be about 316,500 full-time equivalent workers by 2050. This is an increase of 70 per cent.

The HSU says more wage increases on top of what is being referred to as an “interim pay increase” to bridge the staff vacancy gap.

HSU secretary Gerard Hayes referred to the wage increase was a “down payment.”

The Federal Government budget shows a total of $27 billion is to be spent on aged care services this year. About 300,000 employees are expected to receive the pay rise.

In a media release issued this week Anika Wells, Minister for Aged Care, said the sector had been neglected for nine years.

“We need to bring workers back to the aged care sector and fill the staff shortages caused by nine years of neglect,” Ms Wells said.

“One of the main causes of the gender pay gap is low pay and poor conditions in care sectors like aged care, where the majority of workers are women. Increasing wages in aged care is essential to ensuring that men and women are paid equally.”

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