In recognition of the extreme pressures facing the aged care sector, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will address the National Press Club today. He will announce two $400 payments to aged care workers in the country.
In January, more elderly care residents were killed by COVID-19 than in the entire of last year.
Unions and industry groups called for federal intervention last month. They suggested cash payments to workers as well as the deployment of the military to relieve staffing pressures.
They claimed that the Omicron wave exposed "unresolved systemic financing and workforce issues" that predated the pandemic.
Gerard Hayes was the national president of the Health Services Union and fiercely criticized the payments.
He said, "This is a time when aged care workers require diamonds, so trinkets won’t do what’s needed."
"The government knew for a long time, since the age care royal commission, that there was a workforce crisis in aged-care.
"And making $400 payments before an election is insulting to the aged care workers"
Senator Jane Hume, a senior minister in the government, denies that the payments were pre-election sweeteners.
She said, "We paid a bonus payment to the aged care workforce in 2020 in recognition that they are now working harder and have more demands because of the COVID-19 pandemic."
"The COVID-19 pandemic lasted longer than anticipated and this [recognizes] that."
Senator Hume, however, indicated that the government wouldn't support Fair Work Commission's consideration of a case for increasing wages for aged care workers.
She stated that a $5/hour increase in the cost of aged care would significantly increase its costs. However, she added that they want to ensure the system is sustainable for the future.
Stuart Robert, Employment Minister, stated that the government has provided "enormous support" to the sector.
"We have seen a variety of payments in the pandemic to recognize the hard work these wonderful people are doing. Robert stated that this is an ongoing trend.
Staff watching their colleagues leave the building
According to aged care workers, staff shortages are causing pressures on the industry that could lead to staff leaving.
Fiona, a northern New South Wales aged care worker and HSU member, only wanted her first name because many of her coworkers had decided that the work wasn't worth it.
She said, "We've had many [staff] leave -- I would estimate six to eight in this last month."
People leave because they are tired and not because they want to retire.
"It's because they have had enough."
Due to COVID-19, her aged care facility is currently locked down. She stated that staff shortages put stress on residents as well.
She stated that residents were anxious because of inconsistent meals and bath times. There was also a constant rotation in staff.
She is disappointed that more isn't being done to increase staffing in the sector, despite low case numbers.
She stated that COVID was not a question of if but of when.
"We all knew it was coming.
"When it hit, we didn’t have enough staff to cover the shifts."
Other health sectors poaching aged care staff
Many in the industry are concerned about the departures of staff to pursue other opportunities in healthcare, especially the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Leading Age Services Australia's Sean Rooney said that it was a trend which has accelerated in the last year.
He said, "What we have witnessed is workers leaving or indicating their intention to leave the sector because they feel they are undervalued and overworked."
"Aged care staff are being poached by other sectors of the health sector to be able provide services. That's our concern.
"Aging populations mean that we must attract and retain more people to the sector."
He stated that better pay was crucial to bring more people into aged care. This was something his organization was pushing for the federal government to do.
He stated that the royal commission had pointed out that there was a fundamental disconnect between what aged care workers do and how much they are currently paid.
Labor criticizes 'panicked cash bonuses' for staff
Federal opposition criticizes cash bonuses for aged care workers, which tie the announcement to the coming federal election.
Labor has made promises to increase funding for the aged care sector if it is elected but has yet to give specific promises.
Anthony Albanese, Opposition Leader, suggested that the federal government support a case brought forward by the Health Services Union at the Fair Work Commission.
The union seeks a pay increase of 25% for its staff.
Jim Chalmers, Shadow Treasurer, stated that the $400 payments are not what workers require.
He said, "These workers deserve better than being treated like the political equivalent to panic buying."
They deserve a lasting solution.
"This is the Australian aged care workers' thanks -- to be treated like political panic buying -- when they need to achieve a sustainable outcome."