Union says an assistant caring for the elderly is paid less than a Coles retail assistant.
Aged care employers have been trading on the goodwill of nurses by paying them less than shop assistants, nurses have said.
The NSW Nurses Association (NSWNA) says the for-profit sector of aged care is lagging behind the public health system and the charitable sector, affecting staff recruitment and turnover.
About 100 nurses and supporters gathered in Sydney's Hyde Park last week to demand better pay and conditions.
"These people love what they do, and employers trade on that," NSWNA acting secretary Judith Kiejda said.
"They think (nurses) will keep doing it so it doesn't matter."
Experienced nursing assistants receive $21.04 per hour in public hospitals, $19.23 in the charitable aged care sector, and $18.24 by for-profit employers, the association said.
The association said an assistant caring for the elderly is paid less than a Coles retail assistant, who earns $19.05 per hour.
Simran Kaur, an aged care worker in Heathcote with 16 years' experience, told AAP her pay and working conditions were "very poor" and that her employers were "not interested" in negotiating.
The NSWNA wants a pay rise of six per cent, along with greater recognition for experience and qualifications "which will engender a strong culture of ongoing professional development", it said in a statement.
Kiedja said employers needed to keep nurses in the workforce and attract the next generation of workers.
"What we're seeing is an ageing workforce in the aged care sector," she said, adding that nursing could not be permitted to become a substandard, low-income industry.
"Looking down the barrel, if this isn't corrected, people who are ageing will not receive the care they deserve."
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