The Guardian • Issue #2045

Attack on aged care workers’ pay

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2045

Photo: Public domain

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF ) (Victorian Branch) has lodged bargaining disputes in the Fair Work Commission (FWC) against eight private aged care employers refusing to pass all federal funding they receive for wage increases on to their nurses and personal care workers.

The conciliation hearing between ANMF (Vic Branch) and Lifeview (four facilities), mecwacare (15 facilities), Villa Maria Catholic Homes (13 facilities), VMCH Corpus Christie Aged Care Residence, Deloraine Greensborough Aged Care Facility, RALAC (Ringwood Area Lions Aged Care), Westmont Aged Care Services, and Cobram Regional Care (formerly Ottrey Homes) was scheduled in the Fair Work Commission for 9:30 am on Wednesday 8th March – International Women’s Day.

On 21st February, the FWC announced a 15 per cent award rate increase from 30th June for aged care nurses (residential and home-care) and carers. This is the FWC’s stage-one response to ANMF’s national aged care work value case. ANMF is seeking a 25 per cent increase.

The Federal government has committed to fully funding the wage increases and on-costs.

The ANMF is seeking a safeguard clause in the enterprise agreements requiring the provider to disclose the amount of taxpayer funding received for the purpose of wage increases, and obliging them to pass it all on to staff.

Providers’ bargaining representatives have told the ANMF they are waiting to see if there are any “rules” that legally require employers to pass on the entire funding amount.

THREATS

Clare Dewan and Associates, representing many of the aged care providers, has responded to ANMF’s dispute application by threatening to cancel enterprise agreements and move staff wages and entitlements to the awards. This would mean lower wages, and nurses and carers would lose up to 11 days of additional personal leave, paid parental leave, and other allowances and entitlements – all hard won over years of enterprise bargaining.

ANMF state Assistant Secretary Paul Gilbert said, “The aged care royal commission found that low wages and high workloads were key factors in poor outcomes for aged care residents. This mean-spirited approach is evidence that some aged care employers’ representatives are seeking to ignore the final report and recommendations,” Gilbert said.

“Without a mechanism making it mandatory to pass on all of the taxpayers’ targeted pay rise funding, providers will have the opportunity to pocket the difference between their EBA rate and the award rate.

“The irony of aged care providers fighting on International Women’s Day against using all of the taxpayer funding to pay their predominantly female workforce higher wages while their representatives threaten to halve nurses’ and personal care workers carer’s leave entitlement is abhorrent.

“Aged care providers continue to complain about workforce shortages and yet fight tooth and nail against passing on all taxpayer funding for wage increases to their nurses and carers.

“It will be an unforgivable betrayal if aged care providers receive nearly $2 billion targeted to pay higher wages to nurses and carers, then fail to pass on every single cent to their staff.

“We’re calling on the Albanese government to enforce a mechanism to ensure all funding is used for nurses and carers’ pay rises and not funnelled into operational costs or profit.”

In their final report, aged care commissioners Tony Pagone and Lynelle Briggs noted that previous federal government attempts to fund aged care nurses’ and carers’ pay rises had not resulted in increased wages.

Over the past 30 years, federal governments have given private aged care providers almost $2.5 billion specifically to increase wages: the Keating government provided $50 million in 1996.

In evidence to the aged care royal commission in October 2019, Gilbert said “The Commonwealth has increased subsidies to aged care to improve wages, and not once did that deliver a dollar in improved wages.”

BACKGROUND

Under the FWC’s decision to increase award rates by 15 per cent, the award rates will increase to:

  • Personal Care Worker Grade 1 $27.11 per hour, up from $23.57
  • Personal Care Worker Grade 2 $28.14 per hour (holds a relevant Certificate 3 qualification or possesses equivalent knowledge and skills), up from $24.47
  • Enrolled Nurse with 4 years experience $30.51 per hour, up from $26.53;
  • Registered Nurse Grade 2 with 5 years’ experience $36.34 per hour, up from $24.47;
  • Nurse Unit Manager or similar $43.77 per hour, up from $38.06.

The award classification examples (above) may differ slightly between employers as set out in the enterprise agreement. However, the award rate must be paid as a minimum.

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