The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has commenced its hearing into applications to increase award wages for aged care workers. The applications, brought by ANMF and the Health Services Union (HSU), are seeking a 25 per cent pay raise.
If the case is successful, aged care workers could see their minimum wage lifted by at least $5 per hour, or more than $200 per week for a full time employee (based on award rates as at 1 July 2021). For a personal care worker or assistant in nursing, this could translate to an annual increase of more than $10,000. An RN level 1 pp8 should see their annual salary raised by at least $15,000. The full effect of this depends on how much members are being paid under current enterprise agreements, which varies from employer to employer.
The FWC’s Full Bench will consider the unions’ applications to vary the Aged Care Award 2010, the Nurses Award 2010 and the Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Industry Award 2010.
Vote to improve aged care
The FWC case aligns with ANMF’s ‘It’s not too much to ask’ aged care campaign that calls for the federal government to:
- Fund and legislate the requirement for 24-hour registered nurse presence in nursing homes; at least one registered nurse on site in every nursing home at all times.
- Fund and legislate minimum staffing ratios and, at a minimum, the mandated care minutes and the right skills mix (per the Aged Care Royal Commission’s recommendations and in accordance with the ANMF’s implementation plan).
- Legislate clear transparency measures that require funding to be tied to care.
- Improve conditions and fund increased wages.
Federal ALP’s election commitment to support meaningful and sustainable reform across the aged care sector and to deliver on the Royal Commission’s recommendations align with the above priorities. The Morrison Federal Government’s 2022–2023 Budget failed to deliver on many of the details of the Royal Commission’s Recommendations and continues to perpetuate the widely documented systemic problems in the sector.
ANMF believes that a 25 per cent wage increase, alongside mandated safe staffing and 24-hour registered nurse presence, will help attract staff to work in the aged care sector.
In a recent poll conducted by Federal ANMF, almost 80 per cent of the more than 3,000 respondents said they would join or re-join the aged care industry provided minimum staffing levels and skills mix were guaranteed; more than 70 per cent would do so if there were a requirement for at least one RN on-site at all times; and half said a 25 per cent pay increase would convince them.
‘There are many aged care nurses who have left the aged care sector because the crisis has simply become too much to bear, but who have told us that they would return to aged care if there were safe workloads, decent wages and support for them to provide quality care,’ ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said. ‘Many more will be attracted to start work in the sector if there are reasonable conditions and competitive pay rates.
‘Current award rates simply don’t reflect the value of the work in aged care or how the nature of the work has changed and become more complex, requiring greater skill and responsibility under more difficult conditions,’ Ms Butler added.
The ANMF’s application has being made under s157 of the Fair Work Act, which provides that an application to vary an award can be made for ‘work value reasons’. Work value reasons justify the amount that employees should be paid for doing a particular kind of work, related to:
- the nature of the work
- the level of skill or responsibility involved in doing the work
- the conditions under which the work is done.
Supported by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s finding that award wages for aged care workers are undervalued, ANMF’s application argues that the current award rates for aged care workers do not reflect the underlying work value of the work performed, based on the parameters above.
The application points out that, to an ever-increasing degree, the nature of the work of aged care employees:
- is complex and demanding
- is co-operative and team-based
- is personal and intimate
- is stressful and time pressured
- involves exposure to workplace violence and aggression
- is physically and emotionally demanding
- is wide ranging in scope
- carries significant responsibilities.
It also notes that this work is, and has been, overwhelmingly performed by women, which has further contributed to its being undervalued. On top of this, the current rates do not reflect changes in the work value over the last two decades. These changes include, but are not limited to:
- increased workloads and time pressure, coupled with decreased staffing levels
- increased prevalence of higher-acuity residents, with greater complexity of care needs
- an increased percentage of residents with dementia
- an increased requirement for documentation of care
- a reduction in registered nurse numbers, leading to a greater supervisory burden for those nurses who remain
- additional work and regulation, as well as stress and danger, due to COVID-19.
The FWC hearing began on 26 April 2022. ANMF Vic Branch Assistant Secretary Paul Gilbert and ANMF OHS Manager Kathy Chrisfield will be giving evidence during May. A final decision is expected in July 2022.