Nurses pay for safety in aged care

Some employers are passing the cost of compulsory police checks on to hard-working and poorly-paid aged care nurses and staff.

It is now compulsory that all nurses working in aged care have a criminal check, in a move by the federal government to improve safety for residents and staff.

New legislation requires all staff to undergo criminal history checks. But it is not specified who bears responsibility for the cost of this requirement.

‘We are seeing some unscrupulous employers passing on the cost to aged care nurses and other staff, who are earning as little as $15 per hour. Some have had to pay up to $52 for a check,’ said NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes.

For example, the Matthew John Nursing Home in Erina has informed staff they ‘must provide management with a police check or they will be suspended without pay until one is provided’.

‘The new legislation states it is the responsibility of providers to ensure all staff are suitable to provide aged care. The NSWNA believes aged care providers should bear the costs associated with ensuring this,’ said Brett.

‘Aged care nurses are the backbone of the aged care industry – they are responsible for the delivery of quality aged care to residents. They work incredibly hard and are not well paid,’ he said.

‘Asking aged care staff to bear the cost of a police check gives the message they are not valued by their employer. In an environment of serious nurse shortages, this shows extremely poor judgement by employers. It will deter good staff from staying, and others from moving into aged care.’

Brett Holmes wrote to Minister for Ageing Christopher Pyne, pointing out the common law obligations of an employer to reimburse employees’ expenses incurred in the course of employment.

He wrote there were also implications under NSW OHS legislation. ‘Since the purpose of the criminal checks is to ensure safety of staff and residents in the workplace, it is an OHS risk control measure. Under OHS legislation, employers cannot charge employees for anything done or provided in pursuance of the OHS Act.’

Brett requested that a ministerial direc-tive be issued to aged care employers stating that in order ‘to expedite and main-tain compliance with legislation, the cost of criminal record checks for current and new employees is to be their responsibility’.

The NSWNA has also written to DONs in aged care alerting them to members’ concerns and requested a consistent approach by employers on the issue of police checks.

Brett said the NSWNA is also concerned about the way in which employers can potentially use information obtained through criminal history checks.

‘We are particularly concerned that some employers in aged care may take action against employees who have been convicted for offences other than those related to the requirements of the job. We already have cases of nurses being dismissed for a past offence revealed in a police check,’ he said.

Police checks compulsory for all workers in aged care

  • Under the Aged Care Act (Commonwealth) 1997, new requirements for national criminal history record checks apply from 1 June 2007 for all staff working in aged care.
  • The requirements apply to all staff and volunteers in aged care services, including both government and non-government aged care facilities.
  • The criminal history record checks, once conducted, will result in a police certificate.
  • A police check is a document that discloses evidence of whether a person has been convicted of an offence, has been charged with or found guilty of an offence or subject of a criminal charge still pending before a court.
  • The legislation states that some offences such as sexual assault and murder will disqualify people from being able to work in aged care; other offences will not.
  • A police check may be obtained from State Police, the Australian Federal Police or Crimtac and reveals convictions across all jurisdictions in Australia.
  • The cost of a check is approximately $40.00.
  • Compliance with the requirements for obtaining police certificates will be monitored by the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency.
  • Police checks are valid for only three years.

On $16/per hour, Linda can’t afford to pay

On a wage of $16 per hour as AIN at Wollongong Nursing Home, Linda Hardman says  $52 for a compulsory police check is a hefty whack for her to pay out of her own pocket.

‘But I had no choice. I had to pay if I wanted to keep my job,’ she said.

‘Nurses in aged care work really hard caring for residents. We don’t get paid much … and now this.’

Linda said it is already hard to get good people to work in aged care and the cost of police checks will be a further deterrent.

‘Good staff are going to be turned off and the delivery of quality care to residents will be threatened,’ she said.

At a NSWNA branch meeting, the idea was raised to start a letter campaign. Letters signed by 73 of her colleagues were sent to local member Jenni George and Commonwealth Minister for Ageing Christopher Pyne, asking for assistance in resolving this matter.

The Minister for Ageing replied, acknowledging ‘the exceptional work that many aged care workers contribute to caring for older people’ but this did not extend to action addressing nurses’ concerns.

Linda hopes there will be a community forum in Wollongong with residents’ families, to discuss the issue of policy checks as well as other issues in aged care.