Aged carers get ‘incredibly low’ pay rates

A hospice nurse visits an Elderly male patient who is receiving palliative care. Picture: iStock
A hospice nurse visits an Elderly male patient who is receiving palliative care. Picture: iStock

AGED care workers are being assaulted at an alarming rate when they could earn more as supermarket checkout operators, a royal commission has been told.

Unions and a peak industry body want the federal government to provide increased funding to boost staff numbers in aged care and increase the wages and skills of its undervalued workers.

Health Workers Union representative Lisa Alcock said a workforce that was “working poor” could not be expected to provide high quality care.

“You can’t expect a high quality of care from workers on $21 an hour,” she told the aged care royal commission on Wednesday.

Ms Alcock said there was a culture that accepted people who worked in the industry should be prepared to be physically or sexually assaulted “on a weekly basis”.

“The two most critical pieces of feedback that we receive from members on a daily basis is the alarming rate of occupational violence and that is just something you have to accept when you work in aged care,” she said.

“The second is that the incredibly low rate of pay is something that you have to similarly accept.”

Under the aged care modern award, minimum rates of pay for a full-time carers range from $20 to $25 an hour

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation representative Paul Gilbert said personal carers noticed supermarket jobs advertised with an hourly rate of $24-$26.

“The comment I hear is ‘I could get paid more working on the checkout of Aldi’ and it’s technically true,” Mr Gilbert said.

He said the carers questioned why a job they dedicated themselves to was viewed as less worthy than a checkout operator.

Ms Alcock said one woman told her about paying someone $150 an hour to clean her home’s gutters.

“She was only paid $21 to clean a person, and everything that goes with that, to provide dignity and care and support to that person. That’s not fair.”

Industry body Aged and Community Services Australia’s Darren Mathewson said providers agreed the workforce was generally not paid at an appropriate level, but they faced financial constraints.

“Our members for some time have been indicating they would like a greater injection of funding into the system by the Commonwealth to ensure that they can undertake the sort of improvements that they needed to do,” he said.

Mr Gilbert said it was time for action and funding to improve aged care.

“It’s time to stop kicking the can down the road,” he told the Melbourne hearing.

“We have had 20 reviews in 20 years. Things haven’t been implemented.

“We know what needs to be put in place and we need to make it unambiguously uncomfortable for the Commonwealth to put those things in place.”

Ms Alcock said funding needed to be increased and directly linked to wage rises and increases in staffing.