Some aged care workers win long-overdue pay rise, others miss out

March 22, 2024
Aged care workers were given promises by Labor in 2021. Photo: Richard Marles/Facebook

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) announced on March 15 a long overdue pay rise for aged care workers working in the private sector.

Overall, wages will rise between 7–28%, depending on the classification, an increase of between $21 to $32.5 an hour.

The industry suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the thoroughly broken system was exposed.

Being a low-waged, insecure and feminised industry, many people were forced to work over multiple sites just to get by. This was one of reasons many residents experienced very poor outcomes.

The final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety recommended in 2020 that a significant pay rise was necessary not just to retain staffing levels but to attract new staff into the workforce.

It recommended this be done in stages, via an FWC Aged Care Work Value Case.

During the pandemic in 2020, many unions, including the Health Services Union (HSU) and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), lodged applications to the FWC for improved pay on the basis of work value.

An interim decision in 2022 awarded direct care workers a 15% pay rise. This primarily related to workers covered by the nursing award, aged care award and social, community, home care and disability award.

Since then the United Workers Union (UWU) has been pushing for support workers to be given 15% wage rise.

The FWC’s March decision means that home care workers will receive a wage rise of between 15-26% and personal carers will go from $23.10 to $32.52 an hour.

The classification structure will also be improved to encourage more people to become aged care workers.

However, FWA did not award much of a pay rise to indirect care workers: maintenance workers were granted just 3%, and laundry, cleaning and catering staff 7%.

The UWU and The Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work (CFW) criticised this short-sighted decision.

Fiona Macdonald, policy director at the CFW, said on March 15 that aged-care workers had been “undervalued and low paid” for too long.

“The Fair Work Commission’s decision to award additional pay rises, on top of an interim 15 per cent wage rise, is vital to fixing this.”

A new classification structure will “provide the basis for the ongoing recognition and valuation of aged care work”, she said.

She called on the federal government to commit to “fully funding the additional increases of up to 13.5 per cent from the start of the next financial year”, adding that, the exclusion of indirect care workers is “a lost opportunity to support the lowest paid workers”.

Carolyn Smith, aged care director for the UWU, said: “[The] failure to fully recognise support workers for the vital work they do in aged care is greatly disappointing for our members.”

Catering, cleaning, laundry and maintenance workers in aged care “play a vital role in the lives of aged care residents. They are often the face of aged care to many, going well beyond providing the essential services of food, clean rooms, laundry and a well-functioning facility”.

The UWU has been fighting for aged care support workers to receive the same 15% pay correction awarded to other aged-care workers nationally.

[Jacqueline Kris is a member of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation.]

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