Unions raise wage theft worries, but aged-care providers promise to pass on pay rise

Catholic aged-care providers have stated they will pass on in full the federal government’s funding for pay rises to staff, but unions are concerned that some providers will try to short-change workers who are paid above the award rate.

The Fair Work Commission ordered a 15 per cent interim pay increase in November 2022, with the total amount to be applied on  June 30.

This means that come July 1, many aged-care workers can expect a pay rise.

Providers’ pledge

The Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA), Anglicare Australia, Baptist Care Australia, Catholic Health Australia and UnitingCare Australia have all pledged to support the pay rise.

ACCPA chief executive Tom Symondson welcomed the federal government’s commitment to fund the pay increase.

“Aged-care workers have been doing it tough, with severe staff shortages during a pandemic,” Mr Symondson said.

“On top of this, workers across the nation have been feeling the squeeze over this past year as a result of rising inflation, higher interest rates and a general increase in the cost of living. So, this is a much-needed increase.”

The peak advocacy body for not-for-profit providers, Catholic Health Australia (CHA), has welcomed the providers’ pledge, saying it “sends an important signal that society values aged-care workers”.

The pledge reads: “We, as a responsible and supportive provider that values our aged-care workers, proudly pledge that every additional dollar the federal government gives us for this purpose will be used to pay for the increase to wages and associated on-costs.”

“Passing on the extra funding to hard-working staff is the right thing to do,” CHA chief executive Pat Garcia said.

“CHA providers, many of whom are already paying above the award rate, will ensure their staff receive the increase in full,” Mr Garcia said.

Union’s concerns

However, the country’s largest union, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), has expressed doubts that not all providers will pass on the wage rise.

ANMF federal secretary Annie Butler has called for transparency and accountability around new funding so the “money goes into the pockets of aged-care workers, not the wallets of wealthy providers”.

Ms Butler urged the government to consult ANMF on funding allocation, saying that current mechanisms are insufficient. She warned providers might pocket the difference.

“They’re ‘gaming’ the new government funding model, trying to short-change underpaid nurses and care workers,” Ms Butler said.

“There need to be rules or triggers imposed by the government that require aged-care providers to pass the additional funding on to higher wages.

“Many employers on the ground are saying that unless they are ‘legally required’ to pass the money on they will simply use their discretion about how they spend it,” Ms Butler said.

The ANMF’s Victorian branch has filed bargaining dispute applications in the Fair Work Commission for some providers who won’t agree to include a clause in their proposed enterprise agreements.

The clause would ensure transparency about their funding, consultation with the ANMF when they receive it, and a commitment to pass on all additional money provided by the Commonwealth as higher wages.

Crises ahead

Experts warn that failing to pass on higher wages could worsen the crisis in aged care.

If workers don’t get the full pay rise then pay rates will continue to be an issue in attracting and retaining nursing and care staff to provide quality care for older Australians.

According to the latest ABS data, a worker in the health care and social assistance sector earns an average of $1763.60 per week, 2.5 per cent less than the national average weekly earnings for an adult worker.

Women in the female-dominated industry earn $1635.80 per week, while their male counterparts typically earn $2073.60 weekly.

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