I have great admiration for the people who work in aged care, particularly those with the opportunity to provide direct care and support to those in need. This important work makes a difference to people’s lives every day. Retaining staff in the sector can be difficult, especially when wages do not compare favourably with other less demanding work.
Many workers made a significant difference during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic; the paramedics, doctors, nurses and supermarket workers. For those of us who work in aged care, we were incredibly proud of our colleagues who continued to provide care and support to people living in residential care homes or in the community.
In March, we were pleased the federal government announced that a retention bonus would be paid to direct care workers in residential care, and providing services through the Home Care Package program, as part of their response to the COVID crisis. This was a much needed recognition of a sector that has experienced ongoing negative feedback from the regulators, politicians and in some media.
Although appreciated, the bonus failed to recognise and include the indirect support staff who also continued working during the pandemic. These are the people who cook and serve the food, clean rooms, do the laundry, run lifestyle programs, provide therapy sessions, greet visitors at reception, and so on. Indirect support staff play a critical role in the wellbeing of older people, not just for the services that they deliver, but in their interactions with people every day. It is only natural that individuals find it easier to chat to someone as they are cleaning a room, as well as those who are providing personal care.
It is extremely disappointing then, that the value of their contribution of indirect support staff was diminished in the eyes of the government, excluding them from the retention payment offered to direct care workers.
Another blow is the recent announcement that the bonus payment would be subject to tax, further reducing its value for workers in the sector by about 30%.
Even more incomprehensible has been the exclusion of Community Services staff who work in the Commonwealth Home Support Programme, and Short Term Restorative Care or Transition Care programs.
At the opening of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety the Commissioners emphasised that “The hallmark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable …”
No one can deny the truth of this statement. How we treat the people whose vitally important and essential work supports our most vulnerable should be equally important.
Resthaven’s Chief Executive Officer