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Picture: Brian Cassey/NewsCorp.

Aged care workers vow nationwide action

Aged care workers across the nation have backed taking industrial action over “chronic understaffing” and low pay, as the union warns walkouts are highly likely before the federal election.

More than 7000 United Workers Union members employed at aged care providers across three states have voted to cease paperwork, endorse strikes and speak to journalists, with three more ballots due next week.

Major providers such as Bluecare, Southern Cross Care, Anglicare, Hall & Prior and Churches of Christ have joined the action in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

Additional ballots are being organised among 5000 workers at Aegis and Regis in Western Australia and Bolton Clarke in South Australia.

United Workers Union aged care director Carolyn Smith said workers were physically and emotionally “exhausted” with a system that has been overrun since before the pandemic.

“Workers are feeling guilty and exhausted," Smith said.

"They often have 10 minutes to shower a frail resident with mobility issues and potentially dementia … so imagine feeling like you have to run to get everything done.

“I have never seen aged-care workers as angry as they are right now. Workers are sick of being ignored.”

Fair Work Commission hearings into a union claim to bump up aged care workers pay by 25 per cent are due to start next week.

Smith said workers are also pushing for funding transparency in the sector to ensure allocated government spending goes to care not profit.

“The federal government gave providers an extra $10 per resident to fix problems with food in the budget last year, but what workers saw was providers pocketing that extra funding and real problems going backwards,” she said.

Smith said workers were “incredibly disappointed” the Morrison government decided to “barely mention” aged care in last month’s federal budget.

“There was money for more training, but what workers are saying to me is we‘re all leaving the industry. So why are you trying to train people?” she said.

Industrial action is expected to occur during the final weeks of the election campaign.

“This is their moment after years of aged care not getting much attention. They’ve had a royal commission. This is the moment,” Smith said.

“Aged-care workers want to make a point about what’s happening in aged care and what needs to change.”

The Morrison government announced a further $522 million in aged care spending in the budget, including $345.7 million to improve medication management in residential facilities.

More than $48 million was allocated for 15,000 additional aged care training places for new and existing workers.

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