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Aged care staff warn of exodus

Three out of four aged care workers say they'll leave the sector if the federal government doesn't address a wages gap.

An online survey of aged care workers, conducted by the Australian Nursing Federation, has found 77 per cent of respondents would leave the sector unless the wages gap was addressed.

The federation's federal secretary Lee Thomas said low-paid nursing and care staff in aged care were extremely concerned about the disparity in pay between workers in aged care and other areas of the health system.

Thomas said the union is calling for the federal government to commit $500 million to the sector in next year's budget to address the gap.

The survey results come on the heels of last week’s announcement that community sector workers are set to get a pay rise after the federal government promised to find $2 billion in its budget over six years and joined unions in a pay case before the industrial umpire.

The final deal will also depend on states and territories stumping up cash, but the initial response from premiers appears promising.

The 150,000 workers - more than three-quarters of whom are women - earn just over $46,000 a year on average, compared with $58,000 across all Australian businesses and industries.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard told a Sydney forum on Thursday - to a standing ovation - the government would join the Australian Services Union (ASU) in making a submission to Fair Work Australia to resolve the equal remuneration case.

"This is an important step on the road to closing the long-standing pay gap between men and women and delivering fairness to the workplace," Gillard said.

Gillard said if the full bench agreed to the government-union proposal, a fairer pay rate would start from December 1, 2012, at a cost to the federal budget of $2 billion over the six-year phase-in period.

However, the nurses union called for low-paid aged care nursing workers to be included in the pay rises.

"We are pleased the Prime Minister is lending her support to the submission, but we are concerned that nursing and care staff in the under-resourced aged care sector have been left out of this wage claim," Thomas said.

"The wage disparity in aged care, where women make up 90 per cent of the workforce, has to be acknowledged and addressed as a matter of urgency by the Gillard Government.

"Nurses and assistants in nursing (AINs) are getting paid far less than they deserve. For example, nurses in the aged care sector are paid between $168 and $ 300 on average less per week than nurses working in hospitals. The government must be consistent here, if it is serious about assisting low paid workers, particularly women, then it has to include those working in the aged care sector."


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