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Government’s billion-dollar bid to boost aged care wages

While Labor’s plan to boost pay draws criticism from the Coalition and LASA, the ANF welcomes the Aged Care Workforce Compact. By Amie Larter

The federal government has announced a $1.2 billion injection into the pocket of minimum wage aged care nursing and care staff, in a bid to provide more rewarding careers and conditions for Australia’s 350,000-strong aged care workforce.

The Aged Care Workforce Compact, an agreement between the government, union and employers, will see significant wage increases for aged care nurses, care workers and other professionals in the industry.

Starting in July, workers who are currently paid the award rate and who sign an enterprise agreement with an approved provider could see a wage increase of up to 30 per cent over four years.

“We know that most Australians who pursue a career in aged care do it for much more than the financial reward, but pay rises of that level are a big incentive to work in this growing industry,” said Minister for Ageing Mark Butler, at the launch of the Compact.

“A better paid, better skilled and better trained workforce will underpin a more responsive system that provides older Australians with quality care, when and where they need it.”

The Australian Nursing Federation welcomed the announcement, and called on the Opposition to commit to the Compact if it wins in September.

“We have begun addressing the wages issue through the workforce Compact; we must now address other issues like staffing levels and skills mix,’’ said ANF Federal Secretary Lee Thomas.

“It is imperative that the aged care sector is seen as a viable and exciting place of employment so that as a community we are all assured that the highest quality care is being delivered.”

However, the Coalition remains strongly committed to its four-year Aged Care Provider Agreement announced in 2010 – what they describe as a “game changer” for the sector.

“With only 40% of providers operating in the black, many providers will be unable to pay the wage increase and meet the associated on-costs,” said Shadow Minister for Ageing and Shadow Minister for Mental Health Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

“These cost pressures will further erode their viability, especially smaller providers in regional and rural areas.”

Fierravanti-Wells described the Compact as nothing more than a union-driven industrial process dressed up as administrative change.

“Minister Butler’s Compact has failed its principal objective to find a sustainable agreement with the aged care sector on workforce issues.”

There were mixed levels of support from aged care bodies and providers, many looking long-terms to matters of staff retention and quality.

Leading Age Services Australia CEO Patrick Reid said that the compact “tinkers at the edges”, and doesn’t address the real issues faced by the industry.

“LASA supports an age service workforce that is appropriately paid and well trained but how can this happen with an industry that is put under even greater financial pressure?” he said.

“… When systematic change is needed, the whole system must be looked at, every piece of the puzzle must be taken into account and this has not happened in age services.”

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