- The Guardian
- Issue #2001
A survey of 1000 aged care workers conducted by the United Workers’ Union (UWU) has revealed that ninety-seven per cent of aged care workers are yet to receive their $800 bonus payment.
The payment for 265,000 workers was announced by the Morrison government in early February in a bid to secure votes in the face of massive backlash against a crisis in the industry that culminated in the deployment of defence personnel to plug holes left by isolating workers on top of already chronic understaffing.
The bonus was to be paid out in two payments, the first of up to $400 by the end of February, and the second in early May, shortly before the election that must be held by 21st May.
Providers were able to apply on behalf of employees from 1st March, however, were asked by the government to pay workers in advance before their applications were approved and finalised with the government. This act of naivety by the government, expecting an industry plagued by lack of funding and underpayment to pay out government bonuses to workers in advance during a dual COVID and economic crisis has demonstrably exacerbated the delays.
UWU’s survey also found that over seventy-five per cent of workers are yet to receive any information about the payment. Surveyed workers vented their outrage that the payments have been delayed by lengthy governmental processes, despite government assurances that the bonus would be paid quickly.
According to the government, after the first three weeks of the program it had received only 322 applications out of an expected total of 1,650, all of which were still being processed. An update on Thursday said that 650 applications had now been lodged.
This comes as aged care workers throughout Australia build towards industrial action, with UWU saying that applications across sites employing more than 13,000 workers had been lodged with the Fair Work Commission.
UWU aged care director Carolyn Smith has criticised the government’s aged care policy, saying that “Aged care workers were failed in the vaccination program, they were failed with PPE, they were left to fend for themselves during Omicron, working repeated double shifts – and now they have been failed in the bonus program.”
“Aged care workers haven’t been fooled – this bonus doesn’t even touch the sides on the chronic understaffing, the outrageous workloads and the lack of time to care that existed even before COVID.”
And yet, according to a spokesman for aged care minister Richard Colbeck, “allocations of bonus payments to aged care workers is on schedule.”
The Health Services Union (HSU) has repeatedly warned the government of the scheme’s issues, including the likelihood of delays as a result of expecting providers to pay workers out of pocket before receiving approval.
“The for-profits, there’s not many of them, I can see they might dip into their profit margin. But the not-for-profits, I’ve got no idea where they would get the money to facilitate this,” said HSU secretary Gerard Hayes.
It is clear the government is to blame for the delays. In what is already little more than a band-aid solution to an industry in crisis, plagued by understaffing, poor conditions, and underpayment that impacts not only workers but patients and their families.
The bonus payments should be deposited directly to workers immediately. But that’s only the beginning. Systemic changes to the industry such as better pay and conditions, as well as reduced workloads, and increased carer to patient ratios must occur to make the system more equitable for both workers and patients.