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Aged care reform relies on higher wages

Calls continue for competitive pay for aged care workers to improve the industry.

Aged care reform relies on the wages of carers and nurses being increased, with nurses working in aged care earning up to $300 a week less than nurses working in public hospitals.

Speaking at an aged care forum in Melbourne on Monday, National Seniors Australia chief executive Michael O'Neill said unless aged care nurses and carers were paid competitively compared to public hospital nurses, the industry would not improve.

"Older Australians and their families are well aware that for the system to be sustainable, people need to be paid equitably and competitively," O'Neill said.

"Unless there are changes to the wages nurses and others are paid, there will be no reform."

Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) federal secretary Lee Thomas said paying competitive wages was one of several changes needed, after the Australian Productivity Commission released a draft report in January, recommending the need to pay competitive wages to aged care nurses and other staff should be taken into account.

"A registered nurse working in aged care in Australia earns on average up to $300 a week less than nurses working in public hospitals, and aged care nursing assistants earn only $15 per hour,” Thomas said.

The call for higher wages was reinforced at the forum by 74-year-old aged care resident and former nurse, Patricia Kun, who fears living in a system run on a "shoestring".

"What makes the single biggest factor in having good care is to have the right number of staff, the right mix of staff and the stability of staff," Kun said.

"And I can't see that you're going to get stability of staff whilst you continue to under pay people and I guess that is my fear."

Minister for Ageing Mark Butler said providing a good supply of well-trained and adequately paid workers was one of the key challenges of reforming the system.

He said the wages gap between aged care and hospital nurses was significant and in some states, growing.

Aged care residents and their families had told him it was "incredibly important" to have good carers who were prepared to work for years on end in homes.

"So, continuity, fairness and the capacity to recruit and retain an adequate workforce is all wound up very clearly with this question of wages," Butler said.


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