Productivity Commission urged to fix wages gap

The ANF has highlighted the need for wages in aged care that are competitive with the public and private sectors in its final report to the Productivity Commission.

Aged care needs a transparent, enforceable industrial instrument to deliver a competitive wage that will keep nurses in the sector, the ANF has said in its final submission to the Productivity Commission inquiry ‘Caring for Older Australians’.

The ANF proposes that the sector comes together to create a national industrial framework that would specify the wages to be paid to nurses and other care staff. These wages would then be embedded in enterprise agreements.

In its draft report released in January the Commission acknowledged that low pay and conditions were at the heart of workforce issues in the sector but it failed to set a clear direction to solve the problem.

The Federal Minister for Ageing Mark Butler also recognises the centrality of workforce issues.

‘Continuity of care, fairness and the capacity to recruit and retain an adequate workforce are all wound up very clearly with this question of wages,’ he said.

ANF Secretary Lee Thomas said the Productivity Commission needs to consider more fully the issue of wages.

‘It is not unusual for a nurse working in aged care to earn on average $300 week less than nurses working in other sectors. When times get tough and budgets get tighter, nurses need to make decisions and if they can earn up to $300 a week more by working in the public hospital down the road, then those decisions have to be made,’ she said.

ANF puts skill mix and licensing on the table
In its submission, the ANF has also proposed minimum RN and EN staffing levels in aged care.
It has proposed one nurse allocated to:

  • 4 residents per day shift
  • 6 residents per afternoon shift
  • 15 residents per night shift.

The ANF argues that a minimum of 3.85 hours of nursing per is needed per resident per day. However, with the additional time required by nurses for indirect care responsibilities the ANF is recommending a guaranteed minimum of 4.5 hours of care per resident per day.

Independent reports have found that an RN on average is currently delivering just 22 minutes of care per day per nursing home resident.

In its initial draft report the Productivity Commission rejected the ANF’s proposal for national licensing of AiNs. The ANF has asked the Commission to revisit this decision given the public interest in the protection of frail and vulnerable residents that care workers look after.

‘All children’s services workers are required to meet this test, including volunteers, and the same protection should be afforded to older Australians,’ said Lee Thomas.

The ANF also recommends that a Registered Nurse cover a facility 24 hours per day and that each facility that employs nurses must employ a full-time Director of Nursing.

Over 60 aged care nurses demonstrated outside the Productivity Commission building on 21 March in Melbourne demanding better wages and more quality care for older Australians.
The nurses were met by the Productivity Commissioner Mike Woods, who was presented with a petition containing 26,000 signatures of support from the public by ANF Secretary Lee Thomas. A similar rally was to be held in Sydney just after The Lamp went to print.