Rudd cares less for carers


flickr image by Ollie-GIf we're to measure our greatness by the way we treat those who are most vulnerable, we also need to look after those who care for them. This is frequently mentioned in connection with school teachers, but less often to urge support for aged care workers and the efforts of their union.

Last week, aged care members of the LHMU were the first workers to use the new low paid bargaining powers of the Fair Work Act. Low paid bargaining was set up because many low paid workers, usually in areas dominated by women, have pay and working conditions that fall far short of community standards.

An LHMU media release said dedicated aged care workers are leaving because they cannot afford to exist on the low pay rates, which range from just $15.92 per hour for support staff to $18.68 per hour for qualified supervisors.

'Aged care is labour intensive but labour shortages are chronic. Staff face constant stress, physically and emotionally, struggling to do their jobs properly, not just the bare minimum and it's getting worse. Meanwhile, our population continues to age: by 2056 people 65 or over will double to between 23 pet cent and 25 per cent compared to 13 per cent in 2007.'

We might assume that it is greedy employers that are keeping them down. But it seems they have their hands tied by the Federal Government, which passed over the opportunity to provide for aged care workers in last week's Federal Budget which focused instead on deficit reduction.

Martin Laverty is CEO of Catholic Health Australia (CHA), which represents the largest employer of aged care workers in Australia. He believes the Budget failed to fund a pay increase for aged care workers because the Federal Government thinks there should be no increase.

'Catholic providers of aged care want the best for their staff to in turn provide the best care for their residents or clients. Better pay is key to this. But it's not our call. It is the Howard Government's 1997 Aged Care Act that finances aged care services. The Howard scheme has run out of puff on worker pay, and it should be scrapped.'

The Federal Government has requested the Productivity Commission conduct an inquiry over the next 12 months. Organisations such as CHA are currently investing much of their energy into the inquiry, in the hope that they will have increased funding to provide a range of needs including fair pay and conditions for aged care workers. But any implementation of the inquiry's recommendations is distant. Aged care workers need to be paid now, and it's fair to ask what will happen to aged care services in the interim.

In the coming days, the Federal Government will announce the 2010 increase in funding to aged care organisations.

'During the Budget lock up I asked the head of the Health Department how much aged care funding will increase this year to enable better pay and services. I was told there had been a zero increase in the cost of aged care labour, and not to get my hopes up. This is a cart before horse type problem where the Government is refusing to increase funding until pay rates rise, but not-for-profit aged care providers cannot increase pay rates until government increases funding.'

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: michael mullins, aged care, low paid bargaining powers, Fair Work Act, LHMU, Catholic Health Australia



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Existing comments

It's a heartbreaking situation, and another disappointment of the hopes I had entertained of the Rudd government. Even granted the difficulties the Global Financial Crisis imposed on government spending, surely looking after Aged Care workers should have been a high priority for a government committed to decency.
Joe Castley | 17 May 2010

I worked organising a Relatives and Residents group in an Aged Care facility for eight years and during that whole period and over the three years since there hasn'been a change for the better. Short funding has led to frustrated staff and consequent staff turnovers, employment of minimum trained staff and corner cutting that causes minimum services to residents, who often won't complain because of their dependent plight. The Aged Care position in Australia is nothing short of disgusting for a so called caring nation. It doesn't seem to have changed with the present government. Sorry I am incensed about this and could rave on forever.
David Sykes | 17 May 2010

If one were to measure the political weight of an issue (aged-care) by counting the number of comments generatd by a Eureka Street article on the particular issue I wouldn't have high hopes of aged care funding. The head of the Health Department probably has better ways of measuring the political weight of any health issue than I have. And yet he and I have reached the same conclusion.

I don't know what it is but refugees/asylum seekers/border security stirs up extreme political positions - xenophobia on the one hand, altruism on the other; selfishness v generosity. But aged-care and their carers? Who really cares?
I agree with Joe Castley. It's a heartbreaking situation. But so is the apathy on the issue displayed by most of the electorate.
Uncle Pat | 17 May 2010

"If we're to measure our greatness by the way we treat those who are most vulnerable" ...

... we've got a lot of ground to make up, considering we kill eighty thousand out of twenty odd million a year before they've had a chance to breathe.

I make this comment as one who was privileged to care for my ageing parents for nine years until their respective deaths; unassisted by the carers' pension - which I don't begrudge to those who need it. And my dear parents would have thought exactly the same on this question.

It is my deeply held view after decades of analysis that our insensitivity to the aged and infirm is directly in proportion to our callousness as a society to our attitude to the unborn.
Nick Paul | 20 May 2010

I work as a registered nurse in aged care.It is very stressful,trying to meet standards with untrained and burnt out staff and employers syndicated and reaping profits.This area should be set up with capped profit making and Health servises and care for the elderly,placed with disability services.There is a huge workforce and an industry already;surely adjustments to pay and more training would see many benefits across education and other services as well.

I have written to govts with no reply or action.Our society needs to speak up more. Communities don't value us,otherwise we will be seeing Royal Commissions.
catherine | 24 May 2010

The name of the great looking aged person in the article was not given. I assume she was happy for her photo to be used. It would have been nice perhaps if she was acknowledged (assuming she was happy about this). I would hate to think that she is as anonymous as most elderly in care are are to the general public.
Rosemary West | 24 May 2010


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