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Better off working at Aldi? Royal commission witness talks aged care pay

Nurses working in aged care are paid so poorly that they are forced to stay on higher casual rates and work 52 weeks a year to attain a living wage, the royal commission has heard.

Paul Gilbert from the ANMF’s Victorian Branch also said that due to low pay rates, nurses often have to take more than one job to make ends meet.

“I think that most people that we ever speak to do want more hours and occasionally get more hours, but it’s still not a static like it is in most other industries, where you know you’re going to be working three, four, five days a week. No one gets to work full-time. People are working multiple jobs to get an income.”

The pay for personal care workers is also poor, according to Gilbert.

“The comment I hear when I go and have meetings is, ‘I could get paid more, working on the checkout at Aldi,’ and it’s technically true.

“Because they see those jobs advertised with an hourly rate of 24, 25 and 26 dollars. Our enrolled nurse and registered nurse members are paid more than the personal care worker cohort, but not by a whole lot more,” he said.

Also appearing at yesterday’s hearing was nurse practitioner Amy Lazzaro, who believes that high staff turnover is linked to poor pay.

Lazzaro, who runs a geriatric outreach program covering a district of 832,000 people in Western Sydney, said: “A lot of [staff] report back to me that turnover is subsequent to pay.”

She also told the commission that she was “shocked” at the staffing mixes and numbers in aged care.

Lazzaro said that obtaining full patients’ histories when she enters a facility is difficult because the nurses on site are too busy.

“I started the service and got out there on the road in 2015. I was shocked, to be honest. There are a large number of carers or assistants in nursing that work within residential aged care. They seem to make up the bulk of the workforce,” she said.

“I found that the RNs are responsible for sometimes a whole level or a whole wing of the nursing home, with one RN on to, say, maybe 50 residents or 80 residents. And then they’re working within their shift with a large number of assistants in nursing whom they’re responsible for overseeing within a shift. And I think that’s quite challenging for them working in those conditions.”

She also believes that assistant staff training – often only 12 weeks – is “poor” and that nurse assistants and care workers are often “ill-equipped for what they’re walking into” compared to RNs.

Asked if she could change one thing about the residential aged care system, Lazzaro replied: “I would implement nurse to patient ratios, including more RNs on per shift and over a 24-hour period, and I would most definitely implement more education and ongoing training to nurses at all levels on all nursing topics within aged care”.

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