Explained: Why home care is set to cost you more

Last Tuesday, the Health Services Union started a case in the Fair Work Commission to lift the wages of aged care workers by 25 per cent. That’s all aged care workers – in nursing homes and in home care.

Back in March, the Fair Work Commission determined that from 1 July this year, workers can no longer be rostered on for one-hour shifts. Instead, the minimum duration of a shift will be two hours.

To clarify, a shift is a single service.

A typical home-care service on a given day sees a worker visit for an hour in the morning and for an hour in the evening. So, that’s two shifts, and the worker is likely to have shifts in between.

So, what happens after 1 July when a minimum shift is two hours?

Will you still get two hours a day, but either in the morning or in the evening, or will you get four hours a day, two hours in the morning plus two hours in the evening?

The answer is: neither is likely to happen.

What has not received much attention in the media is that the Fair Work Commission also introduced a ‘broken shift allowance’.

In other words, the commission has made provision for the fact that a lot of services are one-hour services.

From 1 July, where a single-break broken shift is worked, the worker receives $17.35 as a broken shift allowance.

In the case of multiple-break shifts, the worker receives $23.20 for each break.

Will this mean providers take more out of your home-care package to pay for broken shift allowances?

It probably will, but not by the full amount of a broken shift allowance.

This is because it will be up to the care provider (and in their interest) to minimise what they pay in broken shift allowances overall.

Apart from smarter rostering, it may well lead to providers making part-time staff permanent full-time staff. Then there are fewer broken shifts and more happier workers.

But there is no question that the broken shift allowance will lead to more money taken out of home care packages for each shift.

This is not unfair though, because part-time care workers do not get paid by the employer for travelling from your place to the next or for waiting for their next shift.

A better-paid home-care workforce will mean two things. That workforce will be happier and less stressed, and it may address, in part at least, the current shortage of home-care workers.

Depending on the outcome of the current case in the Fair Work Commission to lift wages for aged care workers by 25 per cent, it is clear that overall funding of aged care in nursing homes and at home will need to be increased significantly.

While no doubt the government is going to foot part of the bill for increases in wages (and for broken shift allowances), also expect significant increases in personal contributions.

It’s either that or fewer services at lower quality.

Paul Versteege is policy manager at the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association.

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Written by Paul Versteege

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