The final report of The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is seen as Commission Chair Tony Pagone speaks to Governor General David Hurley via video link, February 26, 2021. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

When it comes to looking after our elders, Australia simply must do better.

That was the powerful theme that emerged from the report from the Royal Commission into aged care released on Monday.

ACTU President, Michele O’Neil, welcomed the report and the hard truths it revealed about the state of neglect bedevilling the aged care system, but she remains concerned that the Morrison government is yet to outline how it will address the issue.

“The Royal Commission has found what we have long known: workers in aged are overworked, understaffed and underpaid,” Ms O’Neil said.

“Hopefully, the findings of this report will be a step in the right direction; however, the Morrison Government failed to outline today how it is they plan to actually implement those recommendations.”

The two-year-long Royal Commission delivered 148 recommendations on how to improve the standard of care for residents in aged care facilities. It included recommendations for establishing an independent pricing body to monitor affordability, improved wages for aged care workers to reflect the true value of their work, and genuine transparency of aged care funding to shore up accountability.

For workers, there were a number of recommendations that addressed key areas of concern, including mandated minimum staffing levels and an appropriate mix of skills and qualifications in every residential facility, across every shift, in order to sustain an acceptable standard of care.

On wages, the report recommends improved pay for aged care workers to “deliver high quality and safe care, and the need to attract sufficient staff with the appropriate skills to the sector.”

Wages are so low in the aged care sector – barely above the minimum wage – that providers are now having trouble recruiting staff. #AgedCareRC Click To Tweet

This recommendation has been self-evident to unions representing aged care workers. Wages are so low in the sector – barely above the minimum wage – that providers are now having trouble recruiting staff. Just last year, the Morrison Government has announced a total of 50,000 home care packages to address the waiting list of 100,000, yet only a third of the necessary staff have been recruited so far.

It is now incumbent upon the Government to act quickly to address the situation according to Carolyn Smith, United Workers Union (UWU) aged care director.

“We support the Royal Commission’s recognition that aged care workers’ wages have been too low for too long,” Ms Smith said.

“The importance of skilled and trained workers providing quality care to older Australians is highlighted by a looming workforce crisis in aged care – the Royal Commission estimates 80,000 new aged care workers will be needed by 2030.”

The absence of any certainty around the funding of these changes leaves open the door to political interference in the delivery of structural reform in the sector, something that alarms Carolyn Smith.

“The lack of a clear recommendation on how the reforms should be financed also means older Australians will be hostage to political solutions rather than good policy,” warned Ms Smith.

“Without clarity around funding sources and a bold increase in care time, older Australians will be left without the care and safety they require.”

For the workers tasked with delivering the care older Australians need, these changes can’t come quickly enough. Health Services Union (HSU) member, Karen, has felt the personal sting of not being able to deliver the standard of care she knows her residents require.

“Sometimes I finish my shift and I’m in tears because I couldn’t provide the support the residents needed; it’s a production line,” @HSUNational member Karen on the toll of working in the under-resourced aged care sector. Click To Tweet

“Sometimes I finish my shift and I’m in tears because I knew I couldn’t provide the support the residents needed; it’s a production line,” she said.

The UWU’s Carolyn Smith believes that the 200 minutes of care per day (3.3 hours) by 2022, of which registered nurses provide 40 minutes, is well short of the mark.

“Addressing the issue of care time for each older Australian with a 200-minute benchmark is setting a low standard for the aged care industry,” Ms Smith said after the release of the report.

National President of the HSU, Gerard Hayes, reaffirmed that change can’t come quickly enough for both workers and residents, and that shifting the industry’s addiction to low paying, insecure jobs and replacing them with permanent, well paid positions was fundamental to the success of any reforms.

“The aged care system is underfunded, undervalued and under stress and the Government must work quickly to deliver desperately needed reform. We owe it to all older Australians, their families and the works who care for them,” said Mr Hayes.

“It’s time to change aged care and build a world-class system centred on dignity and respect for all”.

Unions in the sector are calling for an immediate response to the report recommendations

Disappointingly, Morrison didn’t commit to any of the recommendations yesterday, instead saying they’d consider them in the May Budget and possibly through a new Aged Care Act.

Unions in the sector, representing personal care workers, nurses, support staff and health professionals across the country, will ramp up their efforts to convince the Federal Government that the answer to the aged care crisis are jobs that aged care workers can count on.

Date Published: 02/03/2021 Category: On The Job

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