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Empowering caregivers - Australia's aged care sector gets a significant wage rise

By Vanessa Ciabatti

On the 15th of March, 2024, Australian aged care workers made history by winning wage increases of up to 28% – a landmark decision by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) after years of advocacy by the Health Services Union (HSU). Gerard Hayes, HSU national president, aptly describes this achievement as wage justice and a crucial step towards ensuring dignity and respect for aged care workers.

Not only does this acknowledge the historically undervalued work of those in the industry, it also highlights a broader movement towards improving conditions within the aged care sector. Below, we break down the implications of this progressive change, along with any future challenges and developments to watch out for. 

A historic wage increase for Australian aged care workers

The wage rise, affecting over 200,000 workers in residential and home care settings, addresses not just financial disparities but also acknowledges the growing complexity and demands of aged care work. As Prime Minister Anthony Albanese emphasizes, "we need to pay our aged care workers more" to retain skilled staff and provide dignified care for older Australians. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety's recommendations for higher wages were echoed in this decision, aligning with broader efforts to address systemic challenges and improve the quality of care.

It’s important to note that this pay rise isn’t merely focused on higher paycheque numbers – but also about recognising the value performed by aged care workers in a predominantly female industry. The interim pay rise of 15% in 2022 was a step forward, but the additional 13% to 15% increase now ensures a more substantial impact on workers' livelihoods and the overall stability of the aged care workforce. As industry sources estimate, this wage rise will add approximately $3.4 billion to the federal budget, signaling both a financial commitment and a moral recognition of the sector's importance.

The challenges and implications of a wage increase

While the recent pay rise for our aged care sector is a marker of progress for workers, it also brings forth its fair share of challenges and implications. A primary concern is the potential impact on inflation, as these salary increases may contribute to broader wage pressures across different sectors. This is particularly relevant given the recent surge in economy-wide wage growth, which reached a 14-year high of 4.2% in the December quarter. Such changes have thus prompted discussions around wage increases and its corresponding effects on inflation. 

The wage increase also highlights broader workforce issues regarding recruitment and retention concerns, staff shortages, and the need for ongoing professional development and support. As Tim Hicks, Executive General Manager for Policy at Bolton Clarke, notes, “recruiting more staff to meet increased demand is still the biggest challenge in aged care” despite these significant financial strides. With the health and social care sectors expected to grow faster than other industries in the next 10 years, and the “care economy” expecting a 7% GDP increase in the next 40 – the need for skilled workers remains a critical goal for those in aged care. Efforts should also made to attract more school leavers towards the industry, whether this be through more vocational courses or greater access to the necessary training. 

Future changes and planning in the aged care sector

The Australian Government's commitment to funding the wage increase is a step in the right direction, but ongoing monitoring and support will be essential to address any unforeseen challenges and maintain stability within the aged care workforce.
Looking ahead, the industry in Australia is poised for significant changes and reforms aimed at addressing longstanding issues and improving overall quality of care. Three of these “mega reforms” are set to come in effect this 2024, which include:
  • A new Aged Care Act, which will introduce obligations for providers and workers, expand regulatory powers, and emphasize a rights-based approach to care delivery.
  • Strengthened quality standards, which aim to streamline assessment criteria and introduce a new standard focusing on Food and Nutrition, aligning with efforts to improve overall health outcomes for aged care residents.
  • A revamped regulatory model that aims to enhance transparency, risk-proportionality, and continuous improvement within the sector, providing a framework for more tailored oversight and accountability.
These reforms are a direct response to recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which highlighted the need for a person-centred aged care system focused on meeting the diverse needs of their patients.

Looking ahead – future prospects and challenges

Despite the strides taken towards improving wages and implementing regulatory reforms within aged care, significant challenges still persist – particularly concerning workforce shortages and the delivery of high-quality care. The recent wage increase, while crucial for recognising the value of aged care workers, is not a standalone solution to the broader workforce issues facing the sector.

As mentioned, recruitment and retention remain a pressing concern. Strategies such as offering competitive wages, providing ongoing training and development opportunities, and fostering supportive work environments will be essential in attracting and maintaining a skilled, motivated workforce. With growing demand for aged care services, paired with an aging population, the industry will need to address these issues sooner rather than later.

Moreover, adequate funding, comprehensive regulatory oversight, and collaboration across the sector will be key in achieving the objectives set by the “mega reforms” for 2024.

By focusing on sustainable workforce strategies and fostering a culture of innovation and care excellence, the sector could successfully deliver dignified and respectful care to older Australians – ensuring their well-being and quality of life in their later years.

Have a passion for helping others?

As an industry set for massive change and expansive opportunities, there’s never been a better time to enter Australia’s aged care industry. Alongside the recent wage increases, the naturally compassionate will reap plenty of fulfillment from making a positive impact on the lives of those in need.

Upskilled currently offers a CHC33021 – Certificate III in Individual Support (Ageing), providing students with a comprehensive deep dive into the fundamental practices, culture, and everyday activities of an aged care worker. Those seeking joint training with disability support may also choose to pursue our CHC33021 – Certificate III in Individual Support (Ageing and Disability), helping open doors to two of the most rewarding career paths in community services.

Best of all, each course is delivered online – helping you train at a time, place, and pace that suits your needs best.

Start making a difference in your community today, and enquire with us on a course.

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