Aged care workers bid for higher wages

·3-min read

The campaign to improve the wages of the nation's aged care workers is more than an industrial issue - it's "a moral and social issue", the union says.

The matter was taken to the Fair Work Commission on Tuesday by the Health Services Union, which represents staff from personal care workers to catering and cleaning.

HSU National President Gerard Hayes is advocating for a 25 per cent wage increase for the sector.

"This is not just an industrial and legal issue. This is a moral and social issue," he told reporters on Tuesday.

"The people receiving the care that aged care workers are giving are our grandparents, our parents, our family, our friends".

Entry-level personal care workers can be paid as little as $21.96 per hour, the union said.

The case before the commission seeks to lift wages by between $5.40 and $7.20 per hour, increasing average pay to about $29 per hour.

In his evidence before the Commission, Mr Hayes stressed how pay for aged care workers lagged behind other industries.

Staff in the sector were "underpaid compared to someone working at Bunnings or working at a pub".

"It's one thing to drop a can stacking shelves at Woolies but it's another thing to drop a person who fractures their hip and they die".

Mr Hayes said if society cared about the dignity of senior Australians, then those who cared for them needed to be fairly compensated.

"It can't be 'out of sight, out of mind' ... because the suffering (of older Australians) doesn't go away".

The Reserve Bank of Australia expects underlying inflation in the March quarter to be more than three per cent, with price hikes for essentials including fuel, food and housing hitting families hard.

Mr Hayes said a 25 per cent wage increase would cover rising living costs.

The aged care workforce was carrying the "cost of a callous, tight-fisted government that simply doesn't care", he said.

The union referred to the Aged Care Royal Commission's interim report Neglect, which noted the sector's workforce was "undervalued, understaffed and under-resourced".

Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia's aged care system was seen as a global standard, with the government working to introduce round the clock nurses in facilities by 2025.

The royal commission found the system was plagued by chronic under-staffing and low pay for workers who were leaving in droves.

Up to half of older Australians in care were also found to be malnourished or at risk.

Mark Castieau, a chef with 20 years of experience at an aged-care facility, said many staff had left the industry because it was hard to make ends meet as well as the heavy workload during the pandemic.

"It's a highly skilled job looking after vulnerable old people but we're treated as menial workers," he told AAP.

"We're not recognised or valued for our work, we're expendable."

The federal government set aside $19.1 billion in funding to reform aged care, while Labor has pledged to overhaul the sector.

On Tuesday, Labor leader Anthony Albanese committed to recruiting overseas health workers as a "stopgap" measure if elected.

The aged care workers' legal fight comes after thousands of NSW health workers walked off the job earlier this month to support demands for a 5.5 per cent wage increase.

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