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ACCPA proposes new aged care working visa

Aged care providers have proposed the federal government establish a specific visa for skilled migrants to deliver 24/7 registered nurses to facilities.

This morning, the Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) submitted policy proposals to the government to amend the reform bill requiring round-the-clock nurses in residential aged care.

Australia's peak aged care provider association called for the health department to consider partial or full HECS waivers and create incentives to upskill the sector's workforce. 

ACCPA chief Tom Symondson also asked for flexibility and clarity around government penalties for providers struggling to meet the incoming mandates. 

"We want to ensure that providers doing everything they can to meet the target are not unnecessarily penalised," Symondson said.

"It would take away time and resources from their number one priority of caring for their residents.

"We believe the amendments represent a common sense approach intended to make it clearer for aged care providers how to meet these requirements."

The submission called for a government-funded recruitment campaign to attract more registered nurses to the sector.

ACCPA also said it should introduce a 'UK-style health and care worker visa' and extend the working hours of Student Visa holders beyond June 30, 2023.

In 2020, the UK established a 'Health and Care Worker visa' to get more health and aged care staff to join their workforce.

The visa includes a fast-track entry of an applicant, reduced fees and exemption from the UK's health surcharge, which can cost an immigrant up to £624 per year.

ACCPA also asked Labour to start funding the 215 resident care minutes 12 months earlier to 'better support providers in meeting the target on time.' 

Symondson said he'd continue pushing the government to fund the 15 per cent pay rise for aged care staff, including all on-costs.

"Our sector understands that Australians want to be assured of robust arrangements for the clinical care of older people," he said.

"But they also don't want to see them adversely affected by the unintended consequences of legislation."

Last week, the aged care minister Anika Wells acknowledged that not all providers could meet the 24/7 nurse mandate due to the country's nursing shortage.

Federal data estimated the sector would need 11,800 registered nurses by the next financial year to adhere to the incoming reforms mandated by the Aged Care Amendment Bill, due to commence on April 1 this year.

While Symondson said eighty per cent of providers already complied with the nursing requirement, many rural and remote facilities struggled to source qualified staff.

"We welcome the Well's acknowledgement last week that some providers will not meet the July 1 deadline to have RNs on-site," Symondson said.

"We want to work with the government to ensure residents continue to receive quality care."

Two weeks ago, the Productivity Commission (PC) released a five-year report proposing the government should create a new visa subclass for aged care workers. 

The 1,000-page report on how the Australian economy could increase productivity found that less than 1 per cent of migrant aged care staff were sponsored for work in the sector.

It's estimated that one in three aged care workers is born overseas.

Instead of a specific aged care visa, the PC found that nearly 40 per cent of migrant workers were on a student visa or entered the sector via 'sideways.'

The Commission also proposed a new funding model where public and private contributions would create a more sustainable source of revenue.

The re-balancing of public contributions and tax was also suggested during the groundbreaking PC 2011 report 'Caring for Older Australians.'

"We need a considered debate on how we fund aged care into the future, including the possibility of consumer co-contributions for those who can afford it," Symondson said.

"We must protect access for those who can least afford to pay for their care while supporting a sustainable aged care sector."

PC chair, Michael Brennan, said the government should focus on upskilling and training service industry staff, such as aged care.

"If Australia is to continue to grow its economy and increase individual prosperity, it should focus on creating a highly skilled and adaptable workforce," Brennan said.

"Encouraging more tertiary education and lifelong learning can help workers obtain the skills they need for a modern economy. 

"More effective use of skilled migration will help boost Australia's human capital."

He said it has traditionally been challenging to lift productivity in service industries and to retain and attract staff.

Brennan proposed that the nation should pilot a special permanent visa subclass for occupations primarily funded by the government, such as aged care.

The visa subclass should be subject to the current Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold and employ an aged care worker for at least four years.

However, Brennan underlined that the focus on immigration highly depended on whether the workforce responded well to the 15 per cent wage increase due in June this year.

"We are not alone – economies worldwide are grappling with the same issues," he said. 

"There is no easy answer, but we must address this challenge to secure Australia's future prosperity."

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