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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Workforce shortages and other long term issues aired by workers union heads during parliament doorstop

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Aged Care workers from New South Wales and Canberra, alongside Health Services Union figure-heads and Labor politicians, assembled at the doors of parliament yesterday in a continued bid to seek reforms aimed at alleviating the ongoing aged care crisis.

Aged care workers Tatsuya, Christine and Michelle (surnames withheld) shared their pleas to the Federal Government for solutions to the acute workforce shortages created by COVID-19, as well as the long-term issues created by the job’s low pay and unsustainable pressure.

“I have been an aged care worker for 16 years and I’m very sad at what’s happening in our aged care facilities,” Christine said.

“We need more money. Staffing is a big issue.

“…  they could be your mum, they could be your dad; we are not giving them the care they need.”

Sadly, Christine expressed her plans to leave the industry shortly, if not for quick and drastic reforms.

“I’m very passionate about aged care [but] I am leaving the industry within the next few months because I don’t feel I can stay anymore.

“I bring everything to the table that I’ve learnt in my years since I was 15… but it’s sad when you go home and you think ‘have I done this and this and this, did I forget to do this?”

“I’d love to stay because I love my residents. I love the elderly…  They need more respect and I hope our Government is listening today to what we’re saying. We need change.”

Aged care worker Christine spoke outside parliament on Thursday, saying that despite her love for the industry, she plans to quit unless the government initiates reforms.

Tatsuya noted that short-staffing has caused her to feel like she is constantly rushing, meaning care is often incomplete, with residents left both physically and emotionally neglected.

“It is just disgraceful to be treated like we are in a factory…  brushing residents, making them shower within five minutes… I do my job because I do love my job… [but] when I go home, I feel the guilt that I think I have not done enough.

“Even talking with the residents for five minutes, we can’t do that…

“I feel that I’m risking our vulnerable people. I feel that anytime they could fall unwitnessed, lying on the floor for an hour or the whole day. We don’t know what’s happening behind those closed doors.

“They need more care. They need safe care. And it’s really hurting myself while doing the job that I most love.”

Michelle notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to a head, a crisis long unaddressed.

I’ve been in the industry for nine years and prior to COVID this was an ongoing issue. So COVID’s just accelerated it to the attention of where it needs to be, but it’s disgusting that it’s had to come to a crisis…

“It’s like you’re just on a conveyor belt just constantly moving like that and it causes trauma to [residents].

“They like to have one-on-ones, they like to be heard and we can’t accommodate that with the numbers we have on the floors.”

Clare O’Neil, Labor member for Hotham and shadow minister for senior Australians and aged care services, chided the Government’s “abysmal” response to aid older Australians and workers, who she congratulated as being “the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The Government has proposed something of an offensive pay boost to aged care workers that was about as welcome as a Scott Morrison handshake.

Labor member for Hotham and shadow minister for senior Australians and aged care services, Clare O’Neil

“The Australian Defence Force is a welcomed support for aged care but let’s be frank here: 1700 defence force personnel is going to do very little to cover the 140,000 shifts a week that are not being filled by aged care workers.”

She also criticised the Government’s once-off payment of up to $800 per aged care worker, which has been judged as insufficient by academics and industry figureheads alike.

“The Government has proposed something of an offensive pay boost to aged care workers that was about as welcome as a Scott Morrison handshake,” O’Neill said.

“That is because what was offered to these workers was a short term bonus payment that amounts to less than $1 extra an hour that runs out right around the time of the next election.

“I would have thought that sort of political cynicism was beyond even Scott Morrison.”

Clare O’Neil, shadow minister for senior Australians and aged care services, criticised the Government for its “abysmal” response to the aged care crisis.

As a solution, she emphasised calls by workers and advocates alike, suggesting that the path to quality of care for older Australians begins with better support and compensation for the aged care workforce.

“Aged care workers are some of the most poorly paid people in our country.

“You will earn more at Bunnings, you will earn more on the checkout at Woolworths, than you will doing some of the most complex and important work that is to be done in this country.”

“The centrepiece of fixing this problem is supporting them in their bid to get a pay rise through the Fair Work Commission.”

The Fair Work Commission is currently deliberating over a work value case initiated by the Health Services Union, which is calling for amendments to the Aged Care Award 2010 that will mandate a $5 per hour pay rise for all aged care workers.

Lloyd Williams, national secretary of the Health Services Union, said that a pay-rise for workers is vital to retaining current staff, as well as attracting the tens of thousands of new workers needed to sustain the industry into the future.

“These workers, they work their guts out day-in, day-out to provide care in the most difficult circumstances. We cannot fix the workforce crisis unless we deal with the pay issues for aged care workers.

“We need to attract those workers that have left the system, that are retired from the system, because they’ve had enough.

“The way to attract them back is to ensure that we pay them decent wages, at least $29 an hour, and that we provide them with on the job training, paid on the job training, to get them up to speed quickly to address this crisis.”

He added that the recent High Court ruling, which validated the rights of companies’ to employ independent contractors without affording award-enshrined rights such as minimum wages and annual-leave, did not give the union confidence.

“In aged care we have up to 70 per cent of aged care workers either working part time or casual and working multiple jobs. We need to stop that as well.

“We need to provide secure work and the High Court decision yesterday does not give confidence that we will see secure work in those circumstances where we can Uber-ise care.

“That will not provide what we need and that is safe quality care for aged care residents. We need a stable workforce in order to do that.”

Lauren Hutchins, aged care secretary for Health Services Union NSW, suggested that Prime Minister Morrison should “come and work a day in aged care” to understand the severity of the crisis.

“Come and see what our members do every single day and you will understand why you need to support an increase to wages to attract more workers and to make sure our most vulnerable are safe,” she said.

“This is the third year of a pandemic and we are still hearing of PPE unavailability, we are hearing of people who are working double shifts, supporting the most vulnerable in our community and the most vulnerable to COVID.

“Two nights ago we had a meeting of members and we heard from a worker who works in a specialist dementia area where there were two workers on shift with 80 residents with dementia.

“That is a very scary thought for those workers, for those residents and for the families who depend on that service for their loved ones. It is not good enough.

“The crisis is here. The crisis is now. The solution needs to be now.

Though the group had hoped to meet with Morrison after their addresses to discuss the issue further, he was allegedly ‘unavailable’; opposition leader Anthony Albanese stepped in and took the meeting instead.

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