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Wages for aged care work need to increase: royal commissioners

Wages for aged care work need to increase: royal commissioners

The Honourable Tony Pagone QC, and Lynelle Briggs AO

The commissioners, Tony Pagone QC and Lynelle Briggs AO, have recommended a twin strategy to increase wages for personal care workers and nurses in residential aged care:

  • Bring a work value case and equal remuneration application to the Fair Work Commission
  • Make wage increases an objective of the aged care funding system.

ANMF has sought to collaborate with government, employers and their industry bodies and other unions to progress wage improvements to the relevant awards – the Nurses Award and the Aged Care Award.  An application to vary the Aged Care Award 2010 is currently before the Fair Work Commission and ANMF has made a submission.

ANMF applied to the Fair Work Commission for a change of date to file evidence for an Aged Care Award work value case so a work value case for the Nurses Award 2010 could considered jointly, as evidence would be linked. However the Fair Work Commission refused the application. ANMF intends to make an application to the Fair Work Commission to vary the Nurses Award to improve wages and conditions.

In their final royal commission report, Commissioners Pagone and Briggs accepted and acknowledged that a wage gap exists between aged care workers and their equivalents in the acute health sector.

Only minor improvements in aged care wage rates for personal care workers and nurses had been achieved since the 2018 Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce recommended the industry ‘develop a strategy to support the transition of personal care workers and nurses to pay rates that better reflect their value and contribution to delivering care outcomes’.

The taskforce considered that better pay rates could be achieved in one to three years but despite annual Fair Work Commission award reviews and the four-year review of the Aged Care Award 2010 ‘no discernible increase’ had occurred, the aged care royal commissioners said.

The commissioners recommended that in setting prices for aged care, the pricing authority should take into account the need to attract sufficient staff with the appropriate skills to the sector. Aged care should be priced at a level that enables workers to be paid the same as in other sectors such as health and disability, the commissioners said.

Under the Fair Work Act 2009 there are three factors to justify the amount that employees should be paid: the nature of the work, level of skill or responsibility involved in the work, and conditions under which the work is done.

Given the evidence provided at the royal commission about personal care work and nursing in aged care, an across-the-board increase in the minimum pay rates under applicable awards would be justified under the Act, the commissioners said.

If successful, a work value case and equal remuneration application to the Fair Work Commission would increase the wages of personal care workers and nurses in both residential aged care and home care, the commissioners said.

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