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Unpacking the FWC’s controversial two-hour minimum home care shift ruling

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The home care industry will experience a shakeup on July 1, with a recent Fair Work Commission (FWC) ruling mandating new requirements for minimum shift hours and added financial allowances for broken shifts.

The changes to the Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Industry (SCHADS) Award mean that workers must be employed for a minimum of two hours at a time, where currently they can be employed throughout the day on multiple, shorter shifts, most often in blocks of 30 minutes to one-hour.

In practice, this will require a home care worker to either complete a two-hour care session with a single client or, alternatively, providers must schedule back-to-back appointments for the worker with clients in close vicinity of each other, within a two-hour period.

For workers where their shift is broken into multiple shifts in a day, where the gap between working hours exceeds that of a standard meal break, an added allowance of $17.10 will be provided for one break, and $25.15 in the instance of two breaks.

But the changes have received a mixed reception, with the industry’s union and providers debating the merit of the policies as applied on the ground.  

Aged Care News spoke to a variety of stakeholders to determine what this means for the industry, in the context of  the ongoing pressures resulting from  the workforce crisis.

Union claims a win for workers’ rights

Karma Lord, United Workers Union organising pipeline director, says that the new policy is a win for home care workers across the country.

“Would you take a job which can consist of commuting upwards of 45 minutes to work for only $21.57?

While this is a welcome step from the commission, we also need to see a drastic increase in wages for the workers who look after our most vulnerable, often at huge personal sacrifice.

United Workers Union organising pipeline director, Karma Lord

“The decision by the Fair Work Commission to increase the minimum engagement hours to two is the right decision, not just for home care workers but also the clients who rely on the service.”

But Lord reiterates that this move is only a small component of worker-centric reforms, with increases to the minimum wage for these workers still vital, unfinished business.

“While this is a welcome step from the commission, we also need to see a drastic increase in wages for the workers who look after our most vulnerable, often at huge personal sacrifice.

UWU‘s Karma Lord, says that the FWC’s latest amendments are in the interest of ensuring low-paid aged care workers have added security and are fairly compensated for the travel and inconsistencies in their shift patterns.

Questions raised over consumer-choice

According to Giovanni Siano, owner and director of Geelong home care provider Home Instead, the FWC ruling is well-meaning but potentially disastrous in practice.

“The sentiment from the industry is that the Government did not consider the implications on the clients,” he says.

“By giving us so many restraints and parameters to work with, such as the two-hour minimum engagement, it’s going to be very difficult and challenging for us providers to ensure that the consumer choice is respected at all times.”

Daniel (surname withheld), an ex-home care worker, tells Aged Care News that, in his experience, he’s found that more time does not necessarily equate to better outcomes, with many clients requiring short interventions across different times in a single day.

“The minimum two hours looks like it forces care in blocks.

By giving us so many restraints and parameters to work with, such as the two-hour minimum engagement, it’s going to be very difficult and challenging for us providers to ensure that the consumer choice is respected at all times.

Owner and director, Home Instead, Giovanni Siano

“Some showers take 15 minutes… and from a case management perspective, providers tend to be rigid with task lists.

“Providers and carers see personal care as just that. To have [the care time] include some home care can be a challenge … despite time allowing it; a shower-carer won’t touch a broom for the remaining 15 minutes to fill out the time.

“Then, if you only need laundry or cooking, which is very hard to find carers for, done as part of the home care package,  but at different times during the week, the two-hour minimum doesn’t work.”

Siano adds that apart from offering flexibility in service delivery, short, multiple shifts across the week maximise the thin budgets available via the Government-funded packages.

Owner and director of Geelong homecare provider Home Instead, Giovanni Siano, pictured with his wife and co-director Giselle Siano, believes the FWC ruling is well-meaning but potentially disastrous in practice.

“The budget is already quite limited, so if you want to ensure the number of visits in a week is adequate, we have no choice but to have short visits… By having two hours, it means that the client will have less visits, which will put them at risk.”

Furthermore, he fears that a number of clients will be forced into residential aged care against their wishes.

“People that are on a Level 4 Home Care Package, generally speaking, have higher care needs, so it’s very essential that they get the services that they need, when they need them.

“People on a lower level package have an even more limited amount of services they can receive, which will be even further reduced.

“Unless the Government upgrades those packages, there could be the potential for them to consider alternative care options.

Logistical issues and need for smart adaption strategies

Siano says that from now to July, he and his team will be looking to optimise their logistics to ensure their workforce can adapt to these changes with minimal distruption to clients.

“We’re confident in our systems, but it’s a massive undertaking. We need to change the way we schedule the services, and we need to schedule per regional area to minimise travel time so that everything is optimised.”

We’re confident in our systems, but it’s a massive undertaking. We need to change the way we schedule the services, and we need to schedule per regional area to minimise travel time so that everything is optimised.

Giovanni Siano

But there is the potential, he says, for major disruptions under the new model.

“We just barely meet demand… as of July 1, we’ll have more pressure, because now caregivers will potentially be going from the ability to provide six services a day to three, so we’ll need to bring more caregivers on board to serve the same amount of clients.

“Smart-scheduling”, he says, will be a major tool used to maintain consumers’ choice to maintain their preference for shorter sessions, whilst ensuring workers are provided the minimum two-hour working blocks.

“So technically, we can still schedule a caregiver for one hour… that could be a one-hour service, then 15 minutes travel, and then another one-hour service.

“But the challenge with that is, because the minimum engagement of the caregiver is two hours, we need to ensure that the caregiver has services that are back-to-back.

“If someone cancels their service last-minute, the care-giver then only has a one-hour service, stand-alone; that would put the business at risk considerably, and suddenly [the strategy’s] not viable anymore.”

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