Australia’s largest health union, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), has expressed disappointment that the new Coalition Government plans to walk away from historic wage reforms for the low-paid aged care workforce.
“This is just so mean-spirited,” said ANMF Federal Secretary, Lee Thomas. “Aged care nurses and workers have been abandoned by the incoming Abbott Government’s intention to walk away from the agreed Workforce Compact.
“The fact is, the $1.2 billion allocated for wages and training, as part of the Workforce Compact, was the first time ever that Government funding has directly flowed into the pockets of underpaid nurses and care workers.
“Any additional funds for aged care must be tied to a requirement that an employer has an industrial agreement with their workforce because this is the most transparent and accountable way to ensure that the money actually reaches nurses and other aged care workers. It’s unfair that funding is put into the hands of providers.
“Since 2002 there has been a range of Government funding initiatives directed at enhancing the capacity of aged care employers to offer competitive wages, including $211 million over four years in the 2002-03 Budget and a further $877.8 million over years from 2004. Unfortunately, these additional amounts were not tied to bargaining and consequently hardly any nurses or assistants in nursing saw any benefit.
“The ANMF has approximately 90 percent of the aged care sector already covered by enterprise agreements and these agreements award all nurses and in many cases assistants in nursing wages and conditions that are above the award.
“We maintain that enterprise bargaining is an effective mechanism in ensuring that nurses and aged care workers achieve much-needed wage improvements that are fair and competitive and ensure a viable workforce into the future.
Ms Thomas said nurses in aged care currently receive between $168 and $300 a week less than their colleagues in public hospitals – 20,000 nurses are urgently needed to work in aged care to meet the challenges of Australia’s rapidly ageing population.
“The current workforce needs to triple in size by 2050,” she added. “If we cannot recruit and retain nursing and care staff, it’s older Australians primarily living in nursing homes who will ultimately suffer through poorer care outcomes.”