Aged care workers have made an unprecedented commitment to pursue protected strike action if their claims for a decent wage, more care time and more respect are not met by employers.
The commitment – made by almost 200 aged care leaders representing 170 workplaces with 15,000 aged care workers nationally at meetings in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth last week – marks a dramatic escalation in a national campaign by aged care workers for significant reforms in aged care.
Worker representatives from major aged care facilities across the country – including Aegis and Regis in WA, Blue Care and Southern Cross Care in Queensland and Allity and Anglicare in SA – endorsed applying for, and taking, protected strike action in aged care facilities if no steps are taken to end the aged care crisis.
“Aged care workers are sick of being crushed by a system that makes it impossible for them to provide the quality of care that older Australians deserve,” Carolyn Smith, aged care director of United Workers Union, said today.
“Workers are being pushed beyond breaking point by understaffing, impossible workloads and the emotional toll of not having enough time or support to provide the quality of care that residents require.
Smith said to add insult to injury, workers are also expected to survive on some of Australia’s lowest wages.
“Aged care workers are fed up with being ignored by their employers, who have consistently rejected their claims for a meaningful increase in wages and more care time,” she said.
“We know exactly what needs to happen to fix this situation.
“We need appropriate staffing and a workforce that is valued and respected.
“The sad fact is that almost 12 months on from the Royal Commission report, older Australians still do not have access to the level of care required to ensure they can live with safety and dignity.
“The royal commission told us older Australians were suffering.
“Nothing has changed – in fact during COVID, things are even worse.”
Smith said aged care workers recognised there was an opportunity to make fundamental changes in their workplace, and real improvements for those they care for.
“Thousands of workers are bargaining with their employers, there is an election around the corner, and the aged care royal commission shows how much needs to be done,” she said.
West Australian aged care worker Laura said she has worked in the industry for 13 years and over that time has seen the quality of care decline significantly.
“It isn’t hard to address the issues that I am seeing in aged care – better pay, paid time for qualifications and higher staffing numbers would go a long way to attract and retain people.
“It would also prevent the burn-out that we are seeing, where some of the best and more caring workers are leaving the industry for good.”
Queensland aged care worker Caden said when she walks past people who need her help but she simply cannot stop, she has started “feeling like a monster”.
“It’s not fair on aged care workers to be put in this situation…”