According to a leading Australian economic think tank, the aged care workforce crisis has significantly deepened over the past year.
Last year, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) estimated that an additional 17,000 workers per year were needed to maintain bare minimum levels of care.
But in a new report released today, their projection has doubled, with a shortfall of over 30,000-35,000 workers per year estimated unless urgent action is taken.
On top of this, the report states that an additional 8000 workers per year would be needed to bring care standards from bare minimum, to international best practice standards.
Cassandra Winzar, CEDA senior economist, says that a combination of pandemic conditions and government inaction have intensified the workforce crisis.
“The aged care workforce was already under significant pressure with staff shortages, low pay, poor working conditions and increased negative attention through the royal commission.
“Over the past year, COVID-19 has amplified these pressures … resulting in even more difficult working conditions and staff themselves becoming sick.
“For a workforce that was already burnt out prior to COVID-19, this has been the breaking point for many.
Winzar adds that record unemployment has contributed to workers easily transitioning out of the sector to pursue better remuneration in other lines of work.
Furthermore, potential migrants have been disincentivised by Australia’s closed borders during the pandemic, as well as the fact that aged care is not on the list of vocations required to attain a skilled migration visa — that which offers a pathway to permanent residency.
“Miniscule levels of migration and increased levels of attrition in the sector, estimated to be around 65,000 workers a year, have exacerbated existing shortages,” Winzar explains.
“If workforce shortages at this level continue, we will not have enough workers to meet the basic standards of care recommended by the royal commission.”
The new Albanese Government has made commitments towards increasing the quality of aged care through including 24/7 registered nurses in residential aged care and longer mandated care time.
Whilst advocates welcome these measures to ensure an augmented quality of care, CEDA warns that urgent action must be taken to ensure workers are available to ensure their viability.
“These commitments will be difficult to achieve without a turnaround in the workforce numbers,” Winzar says.
CEDA details a number of key recommendations to alleviate the workforce crisis, including:
- Unions, employers and the Federal Government should collaborate to increase award wages in the sector through the Fair Work Commission’s work value case;
- Personal-care workers should be recruited directly by adding them to the temporary or permanent skilled-migration lists, or by introducing a new ‘essential skills’ visa;
- Industry and governments should develop low-cost retraining options for those returning to the industry to boost skills and attract workers.
“Filling this shortfall will not be achieved without determined and consistent effort which must start now,” Winzar says.
Aged care minister Anika Wells has indicated that she supports recruitment of migrant workers to stem the increasing shortfall in workers, but that the priority will be encouraging domestic workers to enter the industry.
CEDA’s full report, Duty of Care: Aged Care Sector in Crisis, is available to view via this link.
- CEDA – the Committee for Economic Development of Australia – is an independent, membership-based think tank, comprising 620 members who represent a broad cross-section of Australian businesses, community organisations, government departments and academic institutions.