Not all aged care work of equal value: FWC

Pay increases across the sector range from 3 to 28 per cent inclusive of the interim decision.

Non-direct residential aged care workers deserve a pay rise of between 3 and 7 per cent, the Fair Work Commission has announced.

Their direct care counterparts have fared better, with Certificate III-qualified personal care workers, assistants in nursing and home care workers in line for a 23 per cent increase, inclusive of the 15 per cent interim increase announced in February last year.

In a summary of its decision released on Friday, the FWC “finds that that the work of aged care sector employees has historically been undervalued because of assumptions based on gender.”

The aged care work value case was lodged by the Health Services Union in November 2020 seeking a 25 per cent increase to wages for all employees due to the work being undervalued in light of its increasing complexity and overwhelmingly feminised workforce.

The result see pay rates increase up to 28 per cent. But the assessment of work value for non-care staff found the rates of pay set out in the Aged Care Award should be increased by 3 per cent.

In the summary, the independent workplace tribunal said: “Without diminishing the importance of the work of indirect care for the proper functioning of residential aged care facilities, the expert panel concludes that the above workers do not perform work of equivalent value to direct care workers justifying equal rates of pay.”

It continues: “There is a fundamental difference between the work value of direct care workers and other employees engaged in residential aged care.”

However, some indirect care workers have been determined to deserve more than a 3 per cent raise due to the change in the value of their work including because of infection prevention and control measures and training requirements.

The FWC has decided that laundry hands, cleaners and food services assistants will be moved from level 2 to level 3 in the Aged Care Award classification structure for indirect care employees, resulting in a total pay increase of 6.96 per cent – inclusive of the 3 per cent increase awarded to indirect care employees generally.

In its summary, the FWC expert panel said: “Laundry hands, cleaners and food services assistants interact with residents significantly more regularly than other indirect care employees and this constitutes a work value reason for an additional adjustment to their rates of pay.”

Meanwhile, the tribunal has determined that there are “work value reasons” for direct care employees’ minimum award rates of pay to be increased “substantially” beyond the 15 per cent interim hike.

As a result, the FWC has proposed a new and uniform classification structure based around a benchmark rate for Certificate III-qualified personal care workers, assistant in nursing and home care workers of $1223.90 per week.

This cohort is to reap a 23 per cent increase, inclusive of the 15 per cent interim boost, with other levels receiving varying increase as in the tables below.

New award classifications and pay increases. Source: Fair Work Commission
New award classifications and pay increases. Source: Fair Work Commission

According to the draft determinations, weekly rates of pay for an aged care employee range from $938.20 (level 1) to $1136.70 (level 7).

For an aged care employee in a direct care role, the weekly rates go from $1101.50 for (level 1 introductory) to $1370.80 (level 6 team leader).

There will be no further increase for head chefs or cooks.

Also, as PCWs and AINs are “functionally indistinguishable” there is no need for different awards and the latter will be moved from the Nurses Award to the Aged Care Award, according to the FWC’s decision.

The rates and classification for nurses will be settled via a separate application made by the Australian Nurses and Midwifery Federation.

Stakeholders’ reaction

After the Health Services Union lodged the case with the FWC, it was subsequently backed by the ANMF and United Workers Union by similar lodgements.

Gerard Hayes

“This is an historic improvement that will usher in a new era of decency and dignity in our aged care homes,” HSU national president Gerard Hayes said. “For the last decade aged care has been held together by the goodwill and commitment of a severely underpaid, insecurely employed workforce. Today those workers have won wage justice.”

“These are life-changing improvements,” Hayes added. “They will allow the industry to retain workers which, as the royal commission noted, is absolutely essential to delivering continuity of care. When someone is dealing with a condition such as dementia, it is deeply reassuring for them and their family to see the same carer.”

Tom Symondson

Chief executive officer of the Aged & Community Care Providers Association Tom Symondson said: “We’re delighted the Fair Work Commission has acknowledged the vital contribution aged care workers make to our community through the care they provide to older Australians.”

Mr Symondson also acknowledged “the disappointment facing thousands of workers in aged care, who will receive rises of 3 per cent to 7 per cent and who also missed out on the 15 per cent increases awarded to our care staff last year – at a time when all Australians are facing a cost of living crisis.”

There is, he said “an ever-widening chasm between what we pay some workers in aged care and what we pay others. Without our laundry staff, kitchen staff, cleaners, gardeners, maintenance, and administrative staff our direct care workers couldn’t do what they do. They all work within the unique environment of aged care whether they are delivering services to older people in their own homes or in residential care.”

Kasy Chambers

Kasy Chambers – executive director of peak advocacy organisation Anglicare Australia – welcomed the tribunal’s conclusions. “We are particularly pleased that today’s decision recognises that aged care workers have been underpaid as a female-dominated workforce and recognises the important contribution of care work. Most of the beneficiaries of today’s decision will be women.”

She added: “Now we need to ensure that the government stands by its commitment to fund these pay increases.”

The peak body representing Catholic providers of health, community and aged care services Catholic Health Australia echoed the statement.

Laura Haylen

“The federal government must deliver on its commitment to fully fund these wage rises as soon as possible, including any leave entitlements,” said CHA aged care director Laura Haylen. “We believe that we can work together to ensure staff are paid as quickly as possible without diverting existing funds from quality care and support. With most aged care providers already running at a loss, they cannot afford to absorb these extra costs without government funding.”

Dr Fiona Macdonald – policy director at the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work said:For too long, aged care work has been undervalued and low paid. The Fair Work Commission’s decision to award additional pay rises, on top of an interim 15 per cent wage rise, is vital to fixing this … The introduction of a new classification structure will also provide the basis for the ongoing recognition and valuation of aged care work.”

However, Dr Macdonald added: “The exclusion of indirect care workers from today’s decision is a lost opportunity to support the lowest paid workers.”

Patricia Sparrow

COTA Australia chief executive officer Patricia Sparrow said the historic decision will play a significant role in bolstering the aged care workforce. “Providing aged care workers with the decent wages and conditions they deserve is crucial if we’re going to attract and retain the workforce we need to improve the service aged care residents are provided with. You can’t have a great aged care system if you’re not paying the people working in the system what they deserve.”

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Tags: cha, cota australia, dr fiona Macdoanld, FWC, Gerard Hayes, hsu, Kasy Chambers, laura haylen, patricia sparrow,

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