This election is unique for those who work in or rely on aged care. For the first time, aged care is a central election issue. It is changing votes and it may well decide the government. A unique election is a unique opportunity for those of us in the sector who have been fighting for reform for many years, to change aged care for good.
In conjunction with our other branches on the mainland, we’ve been working hard in recent years to ensure workers in aged care are at the forefront of this election campaign. This has meant there is a real choice on offer at this election and a real chance to change aged care and the lives of those who work in it.
Back in 2020, we were laying the groundwork for our application to Fair Work for a 25% pay rise for all aged care workers. This week, after years of preparation, hearings kicked off. With some of our star witnesses in Tasmania on the stand this week, we are throwing everything at winning this pay rise.
But while the pay rise might be won at Fair Work, we need to win the community and political fight as well to get that in your back pocket. After a lot of work for many months behind the scene, we’ve gained ground. While the Liberals continue to refuse to support our case, despite the recommendations of the Royal Commission, Labor have committed to funding the outcome of the wage case, meaning more money for workers and a better ability to recruit and retain staff. Make no mistake, this is a fantastic achievement by you, the members of our union.
In addition to a pay rise, Labor have also pledged:
More care hours and better food: Labor have promised to have 24/7 registered nurses by July 2023, 200 minutes of care per day by October 2023 and 215 minutes of care per day by October 2024. This means more nurses and carers with more time to care and a better life for residents. For those working in the kitchen, it’s also great to see Labor’s commitment to allocate funding for nutrition and food for residents.
Transparency: If you’ve ever wondered where the millions of taxpayers’ dollars that come into aged care end up, especially in for-profit or religious organisations, Labor has committed to improving the transparency requirements under the law. That means providers will be held accountable for where the money goes - always good to know if they seem to be buying up new homes or corporate cars while services stagnate. Senator Rex Patrick and other independents have been pushing this issue hard as well in recent years, but the Liberal government has never supported these amendments.
As our case started at Fair Work this week, our north west members rallied at Minister for Aged Care Services Richard Colbeck’s office. Throughout COVID and the aged care crisis, Colbeck has been missing in action. No one was home for us to talk to this time either, but more people have heard from our delegate BN about why aged care workers need a pay rise now.
Some of you would be rightfully angry that your wallet is a little bit lighter than you were expecting this time of year. While refusing to deal with the real issue of wages, the government did announce that retention payments would be actioned in late February and April to help keep workers in the industry.
Some organisations have gotten their skates on and paid the bonus in advance to everyone including admin and maintenance staff. Given we had to lobby hard to expand the payment beyond direct care, and the government refused to go all the way to include admin and maintenance staff, we welcome these positive steps. However, other providers appear to have done very little with applications only just being finalised or, heaven forbid, partway through.
We’ve written to every aged care CEO this week to find out what’s going on and if you haven’t been paid, why and when you should expect your bonus.
For those of you working in home care, the Fair Work Commission recently made a major decision about minimum engagement. In short, part-time workers now must have a minimum engagement of 2 hours. This introduces more certainty for workers and should reduce the time spent on the road between shorter engagements. If you are an award-based employee, this change should flow through on 1 July. If you are on an enterprise agreement, this change will be included next time your agreement comes up for negotiation.
After taking action and walking off the job at Southern Cross Care, staff have saved their paid meal breaks. But the power of collective action didn’t stop there. Southern Cross Care have now backed down on most of their cuts in the proposed agreement and agreed to offer a reasonable pay rise. Thanks to HACSU members who stood up dauntlessly in the face of threats and cuts, workers at SCC are now thousands of dollars better off.
Meanwhile, Uniting AgeWell continue to try to get rid of paid breaks and cut workers’ pay. Using expensive lawyers and legal loopholes, they’ve put out a ballot on paid breaks to try to remove them from the workplace agreement. With the vote closing next week, we’re encouraging all UAW staff to Vote NO to the proposed cuts to save paid meal breaks.
Paid breaks are an entitlement that aged care workers across Tasmania have had for over 50 years. We’re fighting to keep paid breaks because workers are needed to respond to call bells during their breaks, and losing this entitlement will put residents at risk. If you’d like to talk about paid breaks at your workplace, please contact HACSUassist.