Socialist councillor: ‘Aged care workers need safe workplaces’

Aged care workers need better protection and pay to help stop the virus spread.

As aged care workers at St Basil’s Homes for the Aged have been ordered to go into isolation, Moreland Socialist Alliance councillor Sue Bolton called for safer work conditions.

As of July 30, there have been 86 COVID-19 cases linked to the aged care centre in Fawkner and outbreaks in 86 other aged care homes in Victoria.

“My heart goes out to the workers and residents, and their families, at St Basil’s and all the other aged care homes struggling with coronavirus outbreaks”, Bolton told Green Left on July 30.

Bolton is a councillor in the North-East Ward where St Basil’s is located.  

“We saw how COVID-19 ravaged residents and staff in Newmarch House in New South Wales The lessons should have been learned. The federal and state governments should have immediately sent in specialist teams to assist in these totally understaffed homes and allowed residents who could not be treated safely to be immediately moved to hospitals.

“After mounting public pressure, the staff at St Basil's were replaced and put into quarantine, some sick residents are being moved to hospital and the facility is supposed to have been deep cleaned. 

“However, the workers who replaced them are from Aspen Medical, a for-profit company which has a bad reputation from its mishandling of the Newmarch House and Ruby Princess debacles in NSW.

“There are some distressing stories coming out about chaos and heartless treatment of residents and their families following the staff swap. Many of the residents only speak Greek, so there were major problems when replacement staff was not able to communicate with the residents.

“Aged care workers are among the hardest-working care providers in the industry, but their pay doesn’t reflect their dedication and commitment.

“They should also have been provided with adequate personal protection equipment and proper paid pandemic leave from the beginning,” Bolton said.

On July 26, the Fair Work Commission agreed to grant aged care workers access to paid pandemic leave. It finally recognised that these are “frontline” workers who are exposed to an “elevated risk” at work, and who would suffer significant financial distress without support.

“The government needs to make sure that no aged care workers are disadvantaged, or discriminated against, during the pandemic, and that all residents continue to receive the best possible care and attention,” Bolton continued.

Further, Bolton said the federal government needs to “force aged care employers to give their staff permanent employment” with fair pay, as well as pandemic pay, so that “these workers don’t have to move around a number of homes seeking enough shifts to be able to pay their bills”.

“The casualisation of aged care staff is one of the reasons for the spread of COVID-19 in many facilities,” Bolton said.

“We need to learn from this terrible experience with COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care homes. It has shown up just how dangerous and inhumane the privatisation and deregulation of aged care services has been. We can’t trust profit-making companies — including some of those which have charity status — to provide decent aged care.

“Non-government aged care homes have cut staff numbers to the bone. We need staffing ratios for nursing and non-nursing staff to ensure adequate care and infection control for the elderly residents.”

[This article was updated on July 30. Sue Bolton is will standing for re-election, alongside Meghan Street, for the North-East Ward of Moreland Council. She is running with a team of community independents and Socialist Alliance members. Get in touch with her and the team here.]

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