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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Striking workers in WA, SA and Qld demand immediate action on COVID and staff shortages

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The election may be done and dusted, but workers’ fights for meaningful reforms persists, as aged care staff in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia take to the streets in continued strike action.

These striking workers represent seven major aged care providers and 149 facilities, which employ around 11,000 aged care workers and care for more than 11,500 residents.

Aged care workers are buoyed by the promises of change made by Labor, [but] unfortunately those promises do not immediately address the continuing crisis facing workers and residents across the country.

United Workers Union’s aged care director, Carolyn Smith

The action marks a solemn milestone, with 1500 older persons living in aged care having passed away from the COVID-19 virus in 2022 alone.

Carolyn Smith, United Workers Union’s aged care director, says that while the election promises of Labor bode well for the aged care reform process, workers need immediate action from their employers to stem the spread and alleviate the unbearable pressure of workforce shortages.

“Aged care workers are buoyed by the promises of change made by Labor, [but] unfortunately those promises do not immediately address the continuing crisis facing workers and residents across the country.

“Omicron infections are now occurring in 825 aged care facilities – up from 761 the week before – and the death toll from COVID last week alone was 80 aged care residents.”

Smith notes that the following election promises are most urgent:

  • Lifting daily care time from 180 minutes to 215 minutes in line with royal commission recommendations
  • Placing a registered nurse at aged care facilities 24/7
  • Agreeing to support the outcome of a work-value case where a 25 per cent increase in wages has been claimed

While these reforms largely hinge on government-led policy reforms, Smith says that large, for-profit aged care businesses must take responsibility for the insufficient conditions being maintained in the facilities they manage.  

It’s not good enough for very rich, very large organisations saying ‘my hands are tied, we blame the government’ when they clearly have the resources to offer our members a decent pay rise, more staff and more time to care.

Carolyn Smith

“In their industrial action, aged care workers always made it clear they were demanding the best possible offer from their employers, and they continue to demand employers take responsibility for the conditions workers and residents face.

“It’s not good enough for very rich, very large organisations saying ‘my hands are tied, we blame the government’ when they clearly have the resources to offer our members a decent pay rise, more staff and more time to care.

Aged care providers largely rebut the claim that increased pay is feasible without further government subsidies, with reporting from Stewart Brown indicating that more than 60 per cent of providers are currently running at an operational loss.

But these figures do little to alleviate the pain and suffering experienced on the ground by workers and residents alike.

We are walking off the job because we are burnt out, we are stressed, we are always short of staff. We want more staff – not just for us but for our residents. They are suffering.

Anonymous SA aged care worker

An anonymous worker from South Australia tells the union that workers are simply at breaking point.

“We are walking off the job because we are burnt out, we are stressed, we are always short of staff.

“We want more staff – not just for us but for our residents. They are suffering.”

It’s an experience echoed by workers in Queensland, with another anonymous worker saying her management’s expectations are pushing her and her colleagues to their limits.

 “[We’re] working with no breaks. Stress is at a dangerous high. Residents are anxious and the workload is unmanageable.”

Smith said Labor’s cornerstone aged care promises had the potential to significantly improve the lives of thousands of aged care workers and aged care residents.

“We are in no doubt these reforms when implemented to the fullest extent will greatly improve the conditions facing aged care workers,” Smith says.  

“Until then, angry aged care workers will continue to fight through every means available to win better pay, better conditions and more time to care.”

Strike action will continue into next week, with aged care workers planning protests in front of the head offices of Anglicare and Southern Cross Care in SA, as well as and Churches of Christ and BlueCare in Queensland.

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