The federal government is being warned that one-off cash payments to aged care workers will not stem a flood of staff leaving the industry.
- Aged care workers across the country are set to receive two $400 payments
- Unions have called the payments “insulting”
- The Prime Minister will announce the payments in a speech at the National Press Club today
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will use a speech to the National Press Club today to announce two $400 payments will be made to aged care workers across the country, in recognition of the extraordinary pressure the sector is under.
More aged care residents died of COVID-19 in January this year than in the whole of last year.
Last month unions and industry groups made a combined call for federal intervention, suggesting cash payments to workers and even the deployment of the military to ease staffing pressures.
They argued the Omicron wave had exposed “unresolved systemic funding and workforce issues” that pre-dated the pandemic.
National president of the Health Services Union, Gerard Hayes, was fiercely critical of the payments.
“This is a period where aged care workers need diamonds, and trinkets won’t do what’s required,” he said.
“And giving convenient $400 payments prior to an election is just insulting to aged care people.”
Senator Jane Hume, a senior government minister, denied the payments were a pre-election sweetener.
“We provided the aged care workforce with a bonus payment back in 2020 in recognition of the increased work and demands on their time they face because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has lasted longer than we anticipated, and this [recognises] that.”
But Senator Hume indicated the government would not support the Fair Work Commission considering a case to increase aged care worker wages.
“A $5 per hour increase would dramatically increase the cost of the aged care workforce, and we want to make sure this is a sustainable system going into the future,” she said.
Employment Minister Stuart Robert said the government had provided “enormous” support to the sector.
“We have seen a range of payments in the pandemic in recognition of the hard work these beautiful people are doing. This is a continuance of this,” Mr Robert said.
Staff watching colleagues walk out the door
Aged care workers have described staffing shortages compounding as pressures force staff out of the industry, potentially for good.
Fiona, an aged care worker and HSU member from northern New South Wales who only wanted to use her first name, said many of her colleagues had decided the work was no longer worth the stress.
“We’ve had a lot [of staff] leave — I would say six to eight in the last month,” she said.
“People have left because they are tired, not because they are retiring.
Her aged care facility is currently in lockdown due to COVID-19 cases. She said the staffing shortages placed stress on residents too.
She said inconsistent meal times, bathing times and a constant rotation of staff left some residents anxious and confused.
She is frustrated more is not being done to bolster staffing ranks across the sector while case numbers are low.
“COVID wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when,” she said.
“We all knew it was coming.
“When it did hit, we didn’t have the staff ready to cover shifts.”
Aged care staff being ‘poached’ by other health sectors
Some in the industry say they are watching with concern as staff leave to take up other options in the healthcare sector, particularly around the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Sean Rooney from Leading Age Services Australia said it was a trend that had accelerated over the past year or so.
“What we have seen is workers leaving, or identifying their intention to leave, the sector because they do feel that they are overworked and undervalued,” he said.
“Aged care staff are being poached — for want of a better term — by other areas of the health sector, to be able to provide services, and that’s our concern.
“With an ageing population, we need to attract and retain more people into the sector.”
He said better pay was critical to bringing more people into aged care, and it was something his organisation was pushing the federal government on.
Labor critical of ‘panicked’ cash bonuses for staff
The federal opposition has criticised the cash bonuses for aged care staff, tying the announcement to the looming federal election.
Labor has promised to lift funding for the aged care sector should it be elected, but is yet to detail specific promises.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has suggested the federal government make a submission supporting a case launched by the Health Services Union in the Fair Work Commission.
The union is seeking pay rises of 25 per cent for staff.
Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the $400 payments were not what workers need.
“They deserve a sustainable solution.
“This is the thanks that Australian aged care workers get — to be treated as political panic buying — when they need a sustainable outcome.”
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