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Are migrants the solution to increase aged care workforce?

The last public hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration’s inquiry into the role of permanent migration in nation building has looked at how migration strategies could address workforce shortages in the aged care sector.

Robert Thomason, the executive director of VETASSESS, which is Australia's largest authorised skills assessment provider, said a solution to the understaffed aged care workforce could lie in strengthened labour agreements with different countries.

The VETASSESS has had an office in New Dehli for the past six years, which has built government relationships and sparked discussion between India and Australia about migration-labour policies.

In May, the Aged Care Industry Labour Agreement was signed, allowing aged care providers to apply to recruit qualified care workers direct from overseas if they have looked for Australian workers first.

"We have networks which we have established in India, and we believe that we could attract into Australia some 1,000 workers into the aged-care facility," Mr Thomason said.

"If successful in India, we believe this model could move into other geographic jurisdictions. We also feel it could move into other areas of skills needs."

Mr Thomason said demand for workers in Australia could also be satisfied through workers from Nepal, Bangladesh and the Philippines; as even the increasing number of Australians entering the aged care workforce would still not be able to fill the huge employment gaps in the sector.

The Committee of Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) recommended reforms to Australia's 'post-pandemic' immigration system that would address our caring workforce deficit through an Essential Skills Visa.

CEDA says Australia should 'actively recruit for industry need – attracting qualified, motivated applicants, rather than those that end up working in caring roles purely out of need for employment in the visa description.

During the inquiry, global immigration leader and expert in immigration law Maria Jockel said the adoption of the Visa is a "bleedingly obvious" solution to the dire situation in aged care.

"All the papers provided to government, be they from CEDA or other sources, show that the Australian demographics are such that we will continue to rely on migration as both an economic and a population tool," she said.

"The Intergenerational Report has projected a doubling of 65-year-olds, tripling of 85-year-olds, and centenarians increasing sixfold.

"Health and aged-care spending as a share of GDP is projected to increase to a total of 3.4 per cent while at the same time the number of taxpayers is halved. This is just not sustainable."

Chief of aged care provider Whiddon Chris Mamarelis told Aged Care Insite he relies on hiring people from overseas to meet current demand in the workforce, especially when trying to meet the recently legislated care minutes.

"Any programs or initiatives designed to incentivise and streamline processes that will bring overseas workers to Australia is a good thing," he explained.

Although, Mr Mamarelis said since the 15 per cent award increase for aged care workers in June, turnover of Whiddon staff has declined.

"It's going to be interesting to understand what impact [the pay increase] has on the labour market, and if we are able to fill those gaps a little easier domestically," he said.

"But, there will always be a role, particularly for registered nurses, [played] by the overseas market."

The aged care provider said he would like to see more streamlined processes throughout labour-hire agreements with other countries, especially when negotiating with unions.

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