Australia’s aged care sector has long struggled with workforce shortages, particularly when it comes to attracting and retaining qualified nurses and care workers.
However, recent developments in government policy and industry initiatives are offering a glimmer of hope for the sector’s workforce woes.
Low wages have been a long-standing issue in the aged care sector, making it difficult to attract and retain skilled workers. However, in May 2022, the Australian Government announced a historic pay rise for the sector, which will see aged care workers’ wages increase by 15% over four years for 250,000 aged care workers.
The pay rise will boost the wages of registered nurses, enrolled nurses, assistants in nursing, personal care workers, home care workers, lifestyle workers, head chefs and cooks, recreational activities officers (lifestyle workers) and home care workers.
It also aims to attract and retain 10,000 more workers in the sector.
According to Anika Wells, the Minister for Aged Care, “This record $11.3 billion investment is a historic and deserved pay rise for a workforce undervalued for far too long.
“Fair wages play a major role in attracting and retaining workers to provide around the clock care for some of Australia’s most vulnerable people.
“This wage decision will help more women and families to make ends meet, and ensure that quality aged care workers are less likely to contemplate leaving the sector because of pay concerns.
“We are ambitious for aged care and the Albanese Government’s funding will help restore dignity to older people, just as the Royal Commission asked us to.”
The government’s commitment to fairer wages for aged care workers is part of a tripartite approach to address workforce shortages. This approach involves government, industry, and workforce representatives working together to improve aged care workforce recruitment and retention.
The new Aged Care Industry Labour Agreement will develop a new approach for employers to sponsor direct care workers on skilled visas in response to the Royal Commission and the complementary role that migration plays to relieve workforce pressures along with investment in skills and training for the sector.
Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Giles, said the new approach, founded in a tripartite process, can both address workforce shortages for crucial jobs in our society while also protecting workers and promoting good jobs.
“This process speaks to the broader goals of the Albanese Government’s approach to migration and visas, facilitating important social and economic outcomes for all Australians.
“The Aged Care Labour Agreement settings have been designed to strike a balance between the opportunities migration can facilitate to build a workforce while recognising the vulnerabilities faced by workers on temporary sponsored visas,” Giles said.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has called for taxpayer funding for aged care to go directly to nurses and care workers, rather than into providers’ pockets. The ANMF argues this will ensure funding is used to improve wages and working conditions for those on the frontlines of aged care.
Annie Butler, Federal Secretary of the ANMF said, “While we’re pleased that the Government has delivered on its promise to increase aged care wages, our big concern is that many nursing home operators won’t pass on the money intended for workers.”
“We’re urging the Government not to allow providers to ‘game’ the system – and use the Budget to set the rules and introduce accountability for a massive amount of public money, otherwise the industry just won’t have the workers to ensure nursing home residents get better care. And nurses and care workers will be let down yet again,” Butler said.
The Aged Care Workforce Industry Council (ACWIC) has commended funding for the aged care worker pay rise and is actively promoting the importance of fairer wages for nurses and care workers.
Graeme Prior, Deputy Chair of the ACWIC, said, “Taking steps to ensure aged care workers are paid fairly for the vital work they do is essential to ensuring a sustainable and high-quality aged care sector in the years to come.
“Much reform work remains ahead of us, and we must all continue to work together to develop and implement solutions that will bolster our aged care workforce and drive sustainable change,” Prior added.
The Aged & Community Care Providers Association also said the announcement comes as a welcome relief for workers and aged care providers alike after a six month campaign by ACCPA in seeking the government’s commitment to ensure the increase awarded by the Fair Work Commission last November is funded and paid in its entirety from July.
“It was not going to work for aged care providers and their staff to have the increase paid in two parts over 12 months – 10% this year and 5% next year – as originally intended by the government.
“The pandemic and reduced funding over the past decade has left the aged care sector struggling to attract new staff. Importantly, we also need to keep workers, who are exhausted after more than two years of supporting older people and keeping them safe from COVID-19.
“We are delighted the government agrees with ACCPA that increased funding is required now. Without a much needed pay increase, and support for providers to make sure it is paid to their staff on time and in full, we won’t be able to stem the exodus from our workforce.
“We know that the demand for workers in aged care will double by 2050, so we are grateful the government has recognised that we need to do all we can now to reward aged care staff for the important work they do every day.”