Care workers' bonus, vaccination program blasted

The aged care crisis seems to be lurching from bad to worse, with an estimated 140,000 shifts a week unfilled.

Those shocking figures were reported by National Disability Services chief executive Laurie Leigh, who told The Guardian that up to 30 per cent of shifts could not be filled in the first two weeks of the January at the peak of the Omicron wave.

The claims followed an announcement by health minister Greg Hunt that the federal government had earmarked $210 million to support aged care workers with $800 bonuses to be paid in two instalments.

Mr Leigh said the bonus payments “did not scratch the surface” of addressing the issue and healthcare unions have come out fighting.

“Trinkets are not required when diamonds are needed,” said the Health Services Union (HSU) secretary Gerard Hayes.

The HSU launched a claim for a 25 per cent pay rise for aged care workers in 2020. The case is still before the Fair Work Commission.

READ: Aged care set for dire staff shortages

While United Workers Union aged care director Carolyn Smith welcomed the payments, especially as they would be given to support staff such as cleaners and catering staff, she also said the industry was at “breaking point”.

“We do welcome [Prime Minister] Scott Morrison’s admission that aged care wages need to be substantially improved, something we have been saying for a long time now,” Ms Smith said.

“I am not sure these bonuses will fix the systemic issues in the industry.

“Aged care workers are struggling with low pay, understaffing and the poor rollout of COVID-19 response by Scott Morrison,” she said.

“The fact that workers are still not receiving regular RATs [rapid antigen tests] and adequate PPE [personal protective equipment] is indicative of the federal government’s failure in this area.”

READ: Aged care on par with cleaners

Aged and Community Services Australia, which represents six leading aged care bodies, also did not hold back, saying in a statement that staff were “exhausted and burnt out”.

“The recent announcement of two pro rata payments of up to $400 is grossly inadequate and it remains to be seen how this short-term payment will prevent a feared exodus of staff from the frontline.”

In a rare example of unity in support of the HSU’s wage claim, aged care stakeholders, including providers, lobby groups and unions, jointly issued an in-principle Aged Care Sector Stakeholder Consensus Statement last December. It stated: “Wages in aged care need to be competitive to attract and retain the number of skilled workers needed to deliver safe and quality care.”

It concluded that: “A decision of the Fair Work Commission to increase minimum wages in the aged care sector must be fully funded by the federal government and linked to transparency and accountability measures as to how funding is used.”

READ: Most aged care homes would fail minimum staffing standards

In another contentious decision, it is only available to workers in federal government centres.

Stuart Miller, from myHomecare Group, representing about 10 providers, told The Guardian many of their workers would not receive the payment.

“I’ve got people who work for veterans, I’ve got people who work for disability, or people who work for workers’ compensation and they’re not entitled to it because it’s not federally funded,” he said.

Workers employed on 28 February 2022 will receive a bonus payment of up to $400 on a pro rata basis, with another instalment of up to $400 made to workers employed on 28 April 2022.

Aged care providers will apply for the payments and will pass on the money to employees.

In another sign of a lack of progress in the aged care sector, fewer than two-thirds of the nation’s 190,000 aged care residents have received a booster shot, aged care services minister Richard Colbeck told a Senate hearing on Wednesday. That left almost 80,000 exposed to serious illness or death from COVID.

What has been your experience with aged or healthcare? Have you or a loved one experienced a lack of care? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Written by Jan Fisher

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