Feedback sought on role of indirect aged care workers

Should digital employment platforms be restricted in the aged care sector? The Productivity Commission wants to hear stakeholder views.

The Productivity Commission has released an issues paper on the role that digital platform workers, independent contractors and agency workers should play in the aged care sector – and whether they belong there at all.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has ordered the commission to report on the the pros and cons of using contractors and digital platforms to source aged care workers in both the home and residential care sectors, and whether they should be embraced or actively restricted.

In an issues paper released this week, the commission says there’s been an increased use of independent contractors and digital platforms, driven largely by the growth of the NDIS and consumer driven care under the Home Care Package Program.

However, the prevalence of workers from these platforms in the aged care sector remains relatively low.

The paper also notes that the final report of the aged care royal commission expressed concerns about the indirect employment of aged care workers, citing quality of care for consumers and working conditions for employees.

It also called for policies and procedures that preferenced direct employment above agencies, contractors and digital platforms.

Low numbers

The proportion of agency workers and independent contrators in the aged care sector is currently low, the issues paper says.

A 2020 Workforce census suggests only 3 per cent of the total aged care workforce were agency/subcontractor workers in 2020, and agency/subcontractor workers accounted for just one per cent of the workforce.

ABS data also suggests the use of agency workers and independent contractors in caring roles is low.

However the paper says this could increase in the future, “particularly in response to the growing demand for aged care, increasing funding for home care and its potential to provide more flexible care to cater for diverse needs at lower administrative cost”.

The paper notes that women are more likely than men to provide caring services through digital platforms and workers typically don’t do many hours, indicating they are doing it to supplement existing incomes.

Questions raised in the Productivity Commission’s Issues Paper.

Pros and cons

The paper says indirect employment platforms could potentially provide a range of benefits for aged care providers, workers and recipients, including filling short-term staffing gaps, offering more choice for consumers and increased flexibility for workers.

Digital platforms could also help bring new workers to the aged care sector.

On the downside, independent contractors don’t have the same protections as employees, and while there’s an expectation that approved providers are responsible for the care delivered by independent contractors or platform workers, this is yet to be tested in law.

The paper also notes a lack of opportunity for training and skills development for indirect workers.

“An expansion of on-demand and short-term work could worsen existing skills shortages because workers in this environment may have fewer opportunities for training and development,” the paper says.

The Commission also wants feedback from stakeholders “about the merits of effectively restricting the use of indirect employment in aged care relative to other approaches that could ameliorate any negative impacts of indirect employment.”

Submissions are due by April 29 with a draft report to be released by June and a final report to be handed to the government by September.

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Tags: aged-care-workforce, featured, indirect-workers, productivity-commission,

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