Home | Industry & Reform | Nurses, carers win in aged care reforms

Nurses, carers win in aged care reforms

A $1.2 billion workforce compact between government, providers and unions hopes to turn around the poor wages and working conditions in Australian aged care. By Darragh O Keeffe and Natasha Egan.

The federal government’s aged care reforms are a victory for low-paid nursing and care staff, nursing unions have said. The government recently revealed its $3.7 billion overhaul of the current aged care system, which will increase community care options, provide financial support to people living with dementia, and seek to address the issues of quality and access to care.

However, a key plank of the government’s Living Longer. Living Better plan includes measures to address the poor wages and working conditions facing nurses and workers in aged care.

The reforms, a long awaited response to the Productivity Commission’s Caring for Older Australians report last year, include an aged care workforce productivity strategy, a core component of which is a $1.2 billion workforce compact between the government, aged care providers and unions to attract and retain staff through higher wages, improve career structures and enhanced training.

The compact will be chaired by an independent advisory group and will have a focus on workforce issues in regional, rural and remote areas. Aged care providers who sign up to the compact will receive extra funding. The compact will use enterprise bargaining as the means of delivering improved wages and conditions.

The government also announced funding of $377 million over five years to develop the skills of the workforce, while $59 million will be provided for training incentive payments to workers. It is estimated that the aged care workforce needs to grow from 304,000 in 2010 to about 827,100 workers by 2050 to meet the demands of the ageing population.

Responding to the reforms, the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) federal secretary Lee Thomas said the government’s announcement was a real morale boost to nurses working throughout the sector. She said she was confident the workforce compact would go a long way towards more nurses being attracted and retained in the sector.

RCNA CEO, Debra Cerasa said the new aged care plan provides opportunities for new models of care to be made available for older Australians.

Sue Lines, assistant national secretary of United Voice, said the recognition from government that wages in the sector needed a boost was most welcome. Putting together a workforce committee made up of consumers, providers and unions was a sensible way to go, she said.

“It gives those in the sector who know best an opportunity to talk [about the] workforce, not just to set decent wages and better wages and professional wages but to go through the training issues and how we provide career paths and also how we retain a workforce into the future,” Lines said.

“This is looking to the future about how we provide a professional wage and how we get aged care as a career opportunity, particularly for young people coming in because the sector is facing enormous change and we need a skilled workforce to support the quality workforce we have currently.”

Lines said the bulk of aged care workers who are on the award are earning $18.06 an hour, working part-time and are women aged over 45. There is also an “incredible wage differential” for registered nurses compared to what one would attract if she or he were in the public sector.
In terms of implementation, Lines said the Minister for Ageing Mark Butler wanted the compact working group to have finished its deliberations by September and to sign off on that by October this year, with money available from July 1 next year.

“There is an opportunity for unions and employers across the sector to get together long before July 1, 2013, to be ready to take immediate advantage of the money when it starts to flow,” she said.

From an employer’s perspective the reforms start to address the needs of the sector and would enable aged care providers to pay the wages workers deserved, said Rob Hankins, president of Aged and Community Services (ACSA).

He said even though the government was adjusting the Aged Care Funding Instrument, which dictates the funding providers receive for care of residents, a significant proportion of that was coming back to the workforce and meeting wage needs. A spokesman for Leading Age Services Australia, Glenn Bunney, said the industry would welcome the financial support for the workforce, while Martin Laverty, CEO of Catholic Health Australia commended the government for delivering the three key components of more aged care places, more financially sustainable services and a better pay structure.

Providers in rural areas, which have been hardest hit by workforce shortages, also welcomed the package. Sharon Davis, Northern Territory regional manager of Frontier Services applauded the measures and said the planned $1.2 billion investment in the aged care workforce over the next five years was an important step in alleviating the extraordinary pressure on staffing levels and recruitment, particularly in remote Australia.

Aged Care Association Australia Western Australia CEO Anne-Marie Archer said: “What we need now is keen and willing workers wanting to take up the training opportunities proposed to join this critically important labour force in delivering much needed services to our ageing community.”

Timeline for the compact

Year 1 (2012-13)

The compact will be developed by an independently chaired advisory group to ensure that workforce reforms lead to improvements in services for older people and benefits for the workforce.

Year 2 (2013-14)

A new conditional adjustment payment will be introduced to support higher wages for care workers, complementing the new workforce compact negotiated in the previous year.

Year 3 to 4 (2014-15 to 2015-16)

A number of key developments and processes will be completed, providing a basis for the government to make further decisions about transitioning to a new system, including further action to address wage and workforce pressures.

Year 5 to 10 (2016-17 to 2021-22)

Key areas for close monitoring, review and refinement would include: workforce strategies, including education, recruitment and retention, and funding and indexation issues, in close consultation with unions and providers, with potential to refer issues of dispute to the industrial relations system.

Source: Living Longer. Living Better

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