Everything that workers have ever won has been hard fought.
That truism was once again underlined by the recent decision by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to grant aged care workers a 15 per cent interim pay rise which was awarded to parts of the aged care workforce.
Despite 10 years of indifference and neglect from Liberal governments, union members in aged care have carried on tirelessly campaigning for decent wages and secure jobs in their sector, driven by their commitment to each other and those they care for.
The FWC decision still falls short of workers’ demands, and leaves those in non-direct care roles without a resolution to their pay claims. There is still plenty more to be done.
Nonetheless, last Friday’s ruling proved once again that workers together can achieve great things.
On the Job spoke with several key union officials involved in the campaign.
They talked about the 15 per cent pay rise being an important first step for a feminised industry that has been undervalued. But they also called for a further increase to address critical staff shortages as well as the recognition needed for all workers in the aged care industry.
This decision is significant. Whilst our claim was for 25 per cent, 15 per cent as the first interim decision is a wonderful first step and is going to make such a difference for many people.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) Federal Secretary
“Direct care work is critically important, but it has to be supported by all those other ancillary workers and they won’t be attracted there without decent wage increases.”
“One of the things that was really critical in this interim decision was the recognition from FWC President Ross, and the Commission about the really critical impact that occupational gender segregation is having through the undervaluing of feminised industries and what’s seen as traditionally women’s work,” Butler said.
“So, we think that the decision is great, because of the pay increase in the first step.”
For well over a decade we’ve been pursuing decent wage increases with the federal government and through the Commission via various campaigns, so there was a sense of justice at last for care workers.
Health Services Union (HSU) National Assistant Secretary
“For many workers in the sector, the situation has become extremely precarious. Over the last two years it has become even more acute as we’ve seen significant staff shortages right across Australia in terms of rostering hours, and the availability of workers,” he said.
“Whilst this decision deals with wages it’s not the end of the story. When it comes to aged care, we still need to put significant amounts of resources into ensuring that we’ve got decent staffing levels.”
“The aged care Royal Commission sent a very severe message to employers, to the government [and] to the community about what needed to be done. Wages was one part of it, as is dealing with staffing numbers to ensure that people get the best quality care that they should. That is the unfinished business from our perspective as well,” Jacobson said.
For us, there’s no doubt that 15 per cent for direct care workers is a really good outcome and a good base to build from as the FWC kept the door open for it being higher.
United Workers Union (UWU) Aged Care Director
“That’s a significant amount of money in aged care workers pockets around Australia.”
“Obviously, we think 15 per cent isn’t enough. Also, the fact that support staff – so food, food cleaning, administration and lifestyle workers – haven’t had a decision [on a pay increase] is pretty disappointing,” Smith said.
“Any increase should apply to every worker in aged care. Everyone who works in aged care is doing an incredibly important job.”
We also want to make sure that whatever is paid, is paid upfront in one go, not phased in over several years. The workforce crisis in aged care is right now. People are leaving in numbers we’ve never seen before,” she said.
“We’re not really seeing this as a pay rise, we’re seeing this as a pay correction and recognition of just how far backward wages for aged care workers and workers in those other feminised care sector jobs have gone.”
Aged care pay rise a big win but there’s more to do