Aged care staff will be able to access two bonus payments of up to $400 each under a $209 million package to be announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
It will be paid pro rata on the hours worked, with the first payment to be made in February and the second in May.
Those eligible include aged care workers in government subsidised home care and aged care workers providing direct care, food or cleaning services in government subsidised residential care.
Morrison is expected to unveil the plan during his speech to the National Press Club today.
Responding to Morrison’s expected announcement, HSU national president Gerard Hayes said the payment is little more than a pre-election political strategy rather than a serious plan to fix the chronic underpayment of the nation’s most deserving workers.
“We have a sustained crisis that has been brewing for years, yet all we get is more short term political management, more kicking the can down the road, more denial of reality. When will this Government grow up?” he asked.
“Wages are the great unresolved crisis in aged care.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese says the sector is in crisis, with the Government neglecting workers by not proving enough rapid antigen tests and protective equipment.
“We know that aged care residents are sitting in bed without being showered, in some cases without being fed … as a result of a crisis that could have been foreseen, and indeed was, by the prime minister and health minister,” he said.
Labor Services spokesman Bill Shorten called the boost a “sugar hit” and said the Government needs to increase the base wage of aged care staff.
“Increase the base rate and the sugar hit wouldn’t be necessary,” he told the Nine Network.
“The base rate is what has to go up otherwise we are going to struggle to attract people to the industry.
“If you have to look after some of the most vulnerable people, some of who might have challenging conditions in residential care, is $22 an hour before tax enough? I think it isn’t.”
The Government has been criticised for the timing of the announcement, with the May payment coming just as the federal election is expected to be held.
Labor’s aged care services spokeswoman Clare O’Neil called the move “an act of cynical politicking”.
“If Scott Morrison gave a stuff about aged-care workers he would be doing something more than giving them a pay rise that only lasts up until the next election,” she told the ABC.
“A pay rise that lasts up until the next election … will not do anything more than hold this thing together by a thread.”
But Superannuation Minister Jane Hume defended the timing, saying the Government has provided support to aged care workers throughout the pandemic.
“We provided the aged care workforce with a bonus payment back in 2020 in recognition of the increased work and demands on the time they faced because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she told the ABC.
“The pandemic has lasted longer than anticipated and this does exactly that.”
The payments will be paid on a pro rata based on hours worked.
Staff providing care, food and cleaning services in government-subsidised facilities will be eligible as well as those in the federal home care scheme.
“There is demand on their time, they’ve been doing increased shifts, they’ve had to have a surge capacity workforce imposed upon them as well just to maintain the status quo,” Senator Hume said.
But the senator avoided providing support for a $5 an hour payrise, saying it was not a decision for the Government.
“(The) increase would dramatically increase the cost of an aged care workforce, we want to make sure this is a sustainable system going into the future,” she said.
More than 400 virus deaths this year have been in aged care facilities, amounting to about a third of more than 1160 overall fatalities.
The minister responsible for aged care, Richard Colbeck, will on Wednesday front a Senate committee focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic.
He has come under intense fire for skipping an earlier hearing on January 14 and going to the cricket.
Hayes said if the Commonwealth was serious about dealing with this problem it would support the HSU case for a 25 per cent wage rise.
“Until it does, aged care workers will vote with their feet and keep leaving the industry.
“Why would you earn as little as $21 an hour for physically and emotionally demanding work when you can earn more stacking shelves?
“Until the Commonwealth Government commits to pay aged care workers a decent wage this crisis will only get worse.
“Mr Morrison’s latest ploy is cheap and nasty. We’re into our third year of this pandemic and an exhausted aged care workforce is barely holding on.”
Morrison will join ABC journalist Laura Tingle today at the National Press Club.
“None of our health outcomes would be possible without the hard work, long hours and dedicated care offered by our frontline health and aged care workforce,” he will say.
“Their resilience over the past two years has been inspiring.”
The bonus payment builds on the $393 million provided over three payments to 234,000 aged care workers during the pandemic.