As we await the Royal Commission’s final report into our broken aged care system, it is long past time for the Morrison government to listen to the real experts – the dedicated workers caring for Australia’s elders.
Aged care workers on the frontlines know the problems all too well. They also know the solutions.
Workers like Sherree, a veteran aged care worker of more than 20 years’ experience.
Sherree is contracted to work just 16 hours a fortnight, and while she consistently works above that, there are no guarantees of more work.
On top of her irregular hours, the pay is low.
She can’t convince a real estate agent to give her a lease. She can’t convince a bank to give her a home loan. And sometimes, she can’t make enough money to meet her own basic needs.
“As a single middle-aged female with a lack of secure hours, I’ve found myself living in temporary accommodation in a caravan,” Sheree says.
“Where I live, most people are low income, insecure workers. I have met seven other aged care workers in the caravan park.”
This is how we staff aged care in Australia today.
In one of the richest countries in the world, dedicated workers like Sherree are choosing between going to the dentist or paying their car registration.
Extreme job insecurity is devastating for the delivery of care. We saw that clearly during the COVID-19 crisis.
As workers juggled two and even three jobs to make ends meet, their insecurity tragically put them, and the residents in their care, at extreme risk.
The Commission’s interim report made clear that most people working in aged care are doing their best, and that many are doing so in difficult circumstances. It is a workforce that is under pressure and under-appreciated. The Commission noted that workloads are heavy, pay and conditions are poor, education and training are patchy and there is no defined career path for staff.
Counsel assisting the Royal Commission has said that “as a community we owe these workers a lot” and that improving their working lives is critical for elderly citizens to receive safe care.
Today, 90 per cent of aged care workers say they don’t have enough time to do their work and provide social and emotional support to residents.
Three-quarters say there just aren’t enough staff to provide quality care.
Almost half say they won’t keep working in the sector.
This is a big problem.
Hundreds of thousands of new aged care workers will be needed over the next 30 years.
Good, secure jobs must be at the heart of a quality aged care system.
Our top priority must be to respect aged care workers – and not just with our thanks in a crisis.
We need to respect them in their pay packets with a proper, living wage that reflects their dedication. Quality training is critical. One job in aged care must be enough – with secure hours that workers can count on.
And we need minimum staffing levels in aged care – urgently.
In 2018 the government’s Aged Care Workforce Taskforce told them aged care workers are undervalued, casualised, have poor access to training and limited career progression. The government’s failure then to do anything in response does not augur well for an appropriate government response to the Royal Commission report.
There is no solution to the aged care crisis without job security and better conditions for the workforce.
Sherree puts it this way “It is an honour and a privilege to share a person’s final journey, and our older generation deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. But so do the people working in aged care”.
It’s long past time the Morrison Government listened to the experts to fix our aged care crisis – Australia’s dedicated, hard-working aged care workers.
Jess Walsh is a Labor Senator for Victoria.