A last ditch attempt by Labor to save its $1.2 billion Aged Care Workforce Supplement failed yesterday with the Federal Government successfully moving a disallowance motion in the House of Representatives to remove instruments created by the previous government to establish the Supplement.
The government’s move yesterday morning followed motions lodged in the Senate by Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care Senator Helen Polley on Wednesday evening to disallow the government’s suspension of the supplement. Her motions were supported by the Greens.
Announcing the successful disallowance motion yesterday, Minister for Social Services Kevin Andrews and Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield said Labor was attempting to “govern from the grave”.
In a joint statement they said: “Disallowing the instruments that created the Workforce Supplement will mean there is no longer a legislative basis on which to pay the Supplement.” They said “transitional arrangements” would be put in place for the providers who were in receipt of the Supplement.
“The Opposition’s scare mongering claims that we will dump Veterans and Dementia supplements are also untrue,” they said.
The Federal Government first floated its plans to scrap the Workforce Supplement in late August and return the money to the “general pool” of aged care funding.
In late September the government announced it was suspending further applications for the Supplement.
Providers, unions respond
Responding to the developments yesterday, aged care providers welcomed the Federal Government’s moves while aged care unions expressed their outrage.
Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) said the “political manoeuvering” by the Opposition to restore its Workforce Supplement would have brought division to the sector over wages.
ACSA CEO Adjunct Professor John Kelly said all aged care workers deserve better pay and conditions but the pay rise was only available where providers had an enterprise bargaining agreement.
“It is a shame when politics gets in the way of developing good policy but ACSA has argued for some time that all aged care workers deserve improved pay and conditions.
“We accept the assurance from Minister Andrews’ office that it will honour the funding commitment to the 12 providers who applied for funding and were approved,” he said.
Leading Age Services Australia, Victoria also welcomed the Federal Government’s move.
LASA Victoria’s acting CEO Frances Mirabelli said while an increase in wages for staff was positive, the Workforce Supplement, subsidised by reallocating funds previously designated for the quality care of older Australians, was “absolutely not the best way to achieve this.”
“The Workforce Supplement was flawed – it was cumbersome, complex and did not recognise the current level of remuneration being paid to staff by individual providers; in essence, it was ineffective in supporting sustainable wage outcomes for our workforce.”
“LASA looks forward to working with the government towards a sustainable model of distribution of the money; one that benefits the entire aged care industry.”
Michael Crosby, United Voice national president, described the Federal Government’s move as a “blow” to aged care workers.
He said the aged care sector struggled to attract and retain the quality workforce needed to ensure older Australians get the high standard of care.
“The current 350,000 workforce is not big enough for the job. By 2050 we will need one million aged care workers. There is no hope of building that workforce unless the problem of inadequate wages and unrealistic workloads is fixed.
“This crisis in both sectors can only worsen as our ageing population increases and as the demand for high quality early childhood education and care increases.
“Low paid workers, families with young children and older Australians are right to be questioning the priorities of the Abbott Government,” said Mr Crosby.
Similarly, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), expressed its outrage at the scrapping of the Workforce Supplement.
Federal Secretary, Lee Thomas said the ANMF had approximately 90 per cent of the aged care sector already covered by enterprise agreements “and these agreements award all nurses and in many cases assistants in nursing wages and conditions that are above the award.”
She said ANMF members were appalled the Federal Government had used its numbers in the House of Representatives to vote against Labor’s earlier move to restore the Workforce Supplement – “robbing nurses and aged care workers of improved wages, training and working conditions.”
Ms Thomas said the Workforce Supplement was the first time government funding has directly flowed into the pockets of under-paid nurses and care workers.
“We’re concerned that if funding didn’t reach nurses and workers in previous funding allocations, it certainly won’t reach them now, given the government intends to re-allocate the agreed workforce funding,” she said.
Shadow Minister for Aged Care, Shayne Neumann, said the Abbott Government has acted with “unmitigated malice”.
“Minister Andrews should hang his head in shame. His actions are typical of a government which does not value Australian workers,” Mr Neumann said.
“This week the Coalition has abandoned workers at Holden, in child care and now those in aged care. All Australian workers need to beware: Tony Abbott is the Christmas Grinch and his government has done nothing this week except dump on workers,” he said.
The Greens said they were “extremely disappointed” with the Federal Government’s actions.
Senator Rachel Siewert, Australian Greens spokesperson on ageing said the government had shown “complete disregard for aged care workers, who often receive very low wages, despite the fact they’re at the front line when it comes to providing care.”
“They have used the Parliamentary processes that you would normally reserve for opposition to torpedo the regulations put in place by Labor, rather than using their capacity as a government to repeal those instruments and replace them with alternative measures that are supported by the workers and business alike. It is clear that they have no idea how to solve the policy problem of delivering better aged care wages,” she said.