‘No one respects us’:Aged care workers call on Labor to deliver higher wages

Aged care workers have blasted the federal government for overlooking them in the budget,while also urging Labor to commit to funding a wage increase as providers warn of a looming staff exodus.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese is yet to reveal his position on aged care wages,which were not mentioned in Tuesday’s budget despite a union case in the Fair Work Commission seeking a 25 per cent pay rise.

“We’re the pariahs of this world no one takes us seriously,” Marina Webb,who has worked in residential aged care for four years,said.

Aged care workers are disappointed with the budget and want Labor to offer an alternative.

Aged care workers are disappointed with the budget and want Labor to offer an alternative.iStock

“No one respects us. We asked for a decent wage,so we could also have the dignity to go back to our families to be treated like people,not like animals.

“I’m disappointed,and I would like to see what the Opposition Leader has in store for us.”

Mr Albanese is under increasing union pressure to announce Labor’s aged care policies. The Health Services Union has threatened to withhold election campaign funding if the opposition does not make a strong commitment on wages.

United Workers Union aged care director Carolyn Smith said,if Labor “wants to be the alternative government,we think they better start acting like a government”.

An opposition spokesman said Labor would release its policies before the May election.

UnitingCare Australia estimated it would cost the federal government$4 billion a year to fund the wage rise.

Ms Smith said aged care workers were “really disappointed” that the only extra money for them in the budget was for training,acknowledging the $48.5 million over two years to deliver 15,000 low fee and free training places in aged care courses from January 2023.

“What is the use for money for training for new aged care workers when we know workers are leaving the sector in record numbers because of the understaffing and the low wages in aged care?” she said.

Ms Webb agreed,saying Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision “to throw money at training” would not fix the sector’s problems.

“He might as well train monkeys because no one wants to come into the aged care,” she said. “They’re all running away.”

A federal Health Department spokesman said about half of aged care providers had applied for the latest round of staff retention bonuses of up to $800,contained in the budget and announced last month.

Health Minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday said the government had selected six organisations to receive $91 million worth of training grants under the Home Care Workforce Support Program announced in last year’s budget.

The family of a 95-year-old woman have claimed a Brisbane aged care home neglected their mother after she developed painful bed sores.

Aged and Community Services Australia chief executive Paul Sadler,representing non-profit aged care providers,said the budget’s silence on wages was “the biggest disappointment” after five months of industry lobbying.

“It’s absolutely critical issue to enable us to recruit and retain staff,” Mr Sadler said.

“And I might add,that while Labor has made general supportive statements,they’ve not committed to any particular dollar figures either.”

A spokesman for Mr Hunt said the government “acknowledges that a well-supported workforce is key to strengthening the sector and putting the health and welfare of older Australians first – which is why it has already provided more than $600 million in wages bonuses for aged care workers.”

A key aged care bill was expected to go to a vote in the Senate on Wednesday night,including an amendment by independent senator Rex Patrick that would mean aged care homes were required to have a nurse on site 24 hours a day,seven days a week.

Senator Patrick blasted the government on Wednesday for initially leaving the bill off a list of 20 pieces of legislation to be pushed through on the final day of Senate sitting before the election,saying:“That is an absolute disgrace.”

The government needs to pass the bill to roll out its new funding model for the sector,which is supposed to start in October,along with requirements for pre-employment screening of aged care workers and a serious incident response scheme for home care.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said at the National Press Club on Wednesday that the government had guaranteed essential services,including aged care funding,which had “increased dramatically”.

“Since 2012-13,funding for aged care has doubled,” Mr Frydenberg said.

Residential aged care and home care spending will hit $22.7 billion in 2022-23,up from $19.1 billion this financial year.

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Dana Daniel was a federal health reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Canberra.

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