Changes to federal and state laws in the 1990s contributed to the current crisis in aged care and need to be fixed, ANMF (Vic Branch) Acting Secretary Paul Gilbert told a meeting of Job Reps and HSRs.
‘The enterprise bargaining rules are broken, and the aged care laws are broken’, Mr Gilbert told a gathering of ANMF delegates prior to the launch of the Change the Rules campaign.
Mr Gilbert, who joined federal ANMF Secretary Annie Butler in briefing the Job Reps and HSRs on the legislated staffing ratios in aged care campaign, detailed the history leading to inadequate aged care staffing and skill mix, and a wages gap between Victorian public sector nurses and private aged care nurses.
He said that in the 1990s then federal aged care minister, Bronwyn Bishop allowed residents living in low care hostels staffed primarily with nursing attendants (carers) the option of remaining in the facility as their care needs increased.
‘Ageing in place’ resulted in high care residents living in low care facilities which lacked appropriate nursing staffing levels.
He said that in 2004 Swan Hill’s Alcheringa Hostel had sacked enrolled nurses for refusing to administer medications. Administering medications would have been beyond their scope of practice and breached Victoria’s Drugs and Poisons Act.
The ANMF successfully took the case to the Federal Court, which ruled that the hostel, which had a large number of high-care patients, should be treated as a health service and therefore only registered nurses should administer medication.
In response, the state government amended the Act, removing the requirement for registered nurses to administer medications and enabling personal care workers to administer medications.
‘We have no legal requirement for aged care providers to provide a skill mix to meet needs of residents. The only time you hear about this is when things go wrong’, Mr Gilbert said.
Broken enterprise bargaining laws have created nurses’ pay gap.
Enterprise bargaining over the past 30 years has resulted in an 18-23 per cent wage gap between nurses working in private and not-for-profit aged care, and public hospital nurses, Mr Gilbert told the meeting of Job Reps and HSRs.
Having to bargain with individual employers rather than collectively has diminished ANMF’s capacity to negotiate a pay deal for private aged care nurses that matches the public sector EBA.
‘Every time we get an improvement in wages in private aged care, we get a reduction of nursing hours as a consequence,’ Mr Gilbert said.
The union movement wants to change the rules around enterprise bargaining to enable collective bargaining across multiple employers, and lifting restrictions on who and what can be included in a collective agreement.