19 April 2021
MONDAY, 19 APRIL 2021
SUBJECTS: insecure work in the aged care sector; COVID transmission; aged care crisis.
JESS WALSH, LABOR SENATOR FOR VICTORIA: We’re here today at the Senate Select Inquiry into Job Security and we’re going to focus today on aged care. We’re going to hear from dedicated aged care workers today who are going to tell the Committee that they just don’t have enough time to do their jobs. They don’t have enough hours of work to care for the residents that they want to do a great job for and they don’t have enough hours of work to support themselves and their families in the way that they would like to. It is an absolute disgrace that we are organising aged care in this country on low paid, undervalued, and insecure jobs.
We are also going to hear from experts today about how job insecurity in aged care has contributed to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in aged care and also across the community. Today we are also releasing a ReachTel poll which shows that Australians overwhelmingly want to see change in the aged care sector. Over two thirds of people surveyed by ReachTel say that aged care workers are undervalued and underpaid. Over two thirds of people surveyed by ReachTel say that they strongly agree that more stable jobs with better training would provide better quality aged care. Really importantly, people are saying that they will vote on this issue at the next federal election. 52 per cent of people polled by ReachTel say that aged care is an important issue in deciding how they are going to vote at the next federal election.
We are here today to hear from the real experts - the workers - who are trying to do a great job in aged care but are struggling with insecure jobs and not enough hours of work. Aged care workers deserve good secure jobs. All Australians deserve good secure jobs. And the Morrison Government just does not have a plan for good secure jobs in aged care or for other workers in Australia. The only jobs that the Morrison Government cares about are their own.
I would like to now introduce a couple of aged care workers to come and tell us a little bit about their experiences in aged care.
TRACEY COLBERT, AGED CARE WORKER AND UWU MEMBER: My name is Tracey Colbert good morning everyone. I’ve come from South Australia to put it out here about aged care - how we are in a huge crisis. It’s just heartbreaking to actually work in aged care, for our residents, to see them not getting the quality care that they deserve and for our recognition. We are not recognised, and they just don’t care about us and it’s just mainly for their profit. Profit needs to go to the residents. So that’s why we are also here, to make sure that quality care is given because we are here because of them. So they deserve, in the later parts of their life, to have a good quality care. Thank you.
ANU SINGH, AGED CARE WORKER AND UWU MEMBER: Hello everyone. Thank you, Senator, for giving us this opportunity to bring our aged care experience here because yes, aged care is in crisis. We’re going through a lot - it’s not that just COVID impacted us, we were in crisis before that too. Like working as a permanent part time worker for 40 hours per week. But 40 hours is not enough because we’re just working on $22 per hour and that’s not enough. So, we just go and look for another job, and second jobs that have casual shifts. Sleepless nights, tiring days just because the whole time we are on our phones just hoping that maybe another shift comes up and then we will just go to that shift. That’s not right. We need mental peace, we need a good time with our families but we don’t get it because we don’t have enough hours. It’s not just that they don’t have enough shifts, they do have them. They just don’t give them to us, they just don’t allocate them to us. Because they just want to make money but is it about money? No. It should be about quality care of the residents but they are not doing that. We just want this crisis to be fixed. A quality job where we can just go to one job and we don’t have to work for a second job. We love to care, and we are trained to care. We don’t want to quit. But this crisis and this insecurity is just pushing us to leave our jobs, that we actually wanted to do. Thank you.
WALSH: Thank you and I’d like to introduce Annie Butler the Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation.
ANNIE BUTLER, FEDERAL SECRETARY OF THE AUSTRALIAN NURSING AND MIDWIFERY FEDERATION: Thanks very much Senator. We’re extremely pleased to be here today for all the reasons that you have already heard about today, particularly from our aged care workers. I’m here with one of our members Paul Bott, an aged care nurse who is going to tell a similar story, because we have to fix these job insecurity problems in aged care. It could not be more critical. We saw what happened with the height of the COVID pandemic last year particularly here in Victoria, and the impact of insecure work. Insecure work not only has all the impacts that you just heard about. It is the greatest potential health crisis that we could be facing right now. While the vaccine roll-out has not been sorted out in any way, shape or form just yet, if we don’t fix the problem of insecure work in aged care, we’re not going to be fully protected against COVID-19. There could not be a more critical time.
We have heard all of the evidence from the Royal Commission into Aged Care, again beautifully articulated by our aged care workers here; about what insecure work means for the care that they can deliver to residents in aged care across the entire country right at the moment. We know across the country thirty to forty percent of aged care workers would like to have more work. In the height of the COVID pandemic more than fifty percent of our members told us, working in aged care, that they would take on more shifts - that they would like to work more to be able to solve these problems. It just wasn’t offered. We really need to start valuing aged care residents, aged care workers by ensuring job security.
WALSH: Thanks Annie. Senator Tony Sheldon is the chair of the Senate Select Committee into Job Security.
TONY SHELDON, LABOR SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES: What we have seen from evidence from Sydney, from Wollongong and now, over these next couple of days, evidence regarding exploitation of workers that are in insecure work. We are seeing not enough hours being given, people not being able to raise a family, pay for their rent or take out a mortgage - let alone even buy a car. These are industries which are right across our economy. Whether it be miners, whether it be aged care workers, hospitality workers, whether it be TAFE college teachers, whether it be security guards or universities. We are seeing person after person across the Australian community not getting enough work and having insecure work, which means they cannot raise a family or look after themselves.
Now what we have got to see is that the Government needs to take seriously the plague and pandemic of insecure work that we saw in the economy before COVID and now being turbo charged as a result of COVID. We need a Government that says we can have the right policies to make a difference. What we have seen with aged care and right across the caring industries, where the Government has been spending billions of dollars – tax dollars – billions of tax dollars from Australian tax payers and undermining the secure work of hard working Australians by saying that money is not required to have secure jobs. So what we have seen is billions of dollars of tax payers money being spent, where that money has had no obligations on those receiving that money to give good secure jobs to hard working Australians. We have seen across the aged care services where people aren’t being trained. They aren’t being given secure jobs and they are right on the edge of the pandemic. The consequences of the pressure that is coming through COVID and what we have to look at as we come out of COVID.
So clearly, we have this very important inquiry where we have seen miners, university workers, aged care workers and of course now the caring industry that we will be concentrating over the next couple of days. Where people will have the chance to speak up but also industry will have a chance to respond because this is a crisis in this country where insecure work is undermining hard working Australians from being able to raise a family or make sure that they have the right sort of income to turn around and make sure they can pay their rent, put food on the table and have a decent life. And Governments are spending billions of dollars - of taxpayers’ dollars - which do not have requirements on how that money is being spent. It doesn’t have requirements regarding training, and it doesn’t have requirements about making sure you have a good secure job.
JOURNALIST: So what are you guys doing today? What are you here to hear?
WALSH: We are going to hear from the real experts in aged care today. The workers who do the hard work of looking after our elderly residents in Australia every day. And we’re going to hear that they struggle with short hour jobs, that too many of them have to have at least two jobs to make ends meet. They don’t have the hours of work that they need to care for residents or to support their own families. We are also going to hear from experts, academics and researchers, who are going to tell us that this created a real crisis here in Victoria with the spread of COVID-19. Insecure work led to the spread of COVID-19 in aged care and it led to the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
JOURNALIST: What’s the impact of insecure work on workers in the aged care sector?
WALSH: We are going to hear about that today. We are going to hear about people who just don’t have enough hours of work to make ends meet. Jobs in aged care are predominantly part-time and they are short hour contracts. People don’t even have the security of knowing the number of hours that they are going to work from week to week. On top of that we are seeing casualisation of aged care, we are seeing agency workers in aged care and we are even seeing the emergence of platforms like Mable in aged care where people have no job security whatsoever. And the impact of that on people is that they just don’t have the security to plan their own lives. Its tough for them to look after their own families and they shouldn’t have to struggle to care for their own families in order to care for the aged care residents of Australia.
JOURNALIST: And is the Government doing anything to address these problems?
WALSH: The Government has had report after report on the aged care crisis and it has done absolutely nothing to address the aged care crisis. It has done absolutely nothing over eight years of Government to address the crisis of insecure work in general in our society. The Morrison Government just does not have a plan for good secure jobs in aged care. The Government is talking about solutions in aged care and what we are saying to them is that they have to put good secure jobs at the heart of any response to the aged care crisis.
JOURNALIST: So how is insecure work impacting on workers across Australia?
SHELDON: What we have seen is evidence so far where workers have given stories about minimal amount of hours, not being able to raise a family, people putting off having children because they have insecure work and don’t know how to pay for and support their future families.
This is a Government that has sat on its hands for now nearly eight years and has failed to turn around and make sure that we can have proper communities with proper support from the Government through proper policies. I think what we have definitely seen throughout the inquiry, and we will no doubt see again today, is the sort of pressures on families and hardworking Australians in our community. When billions of dollars are being spent but we aren’t getting value for those billions of tax dollars being put into aged care services. We have seen this right across the mining industry, some of what is considered some of the toughest areas where we expect people to be getting paid decent wages, where wages have declined on three, four, five separate occasions over the last eight years because of the Government’s industrial relations policies. We need to see insecure work turned around and cleaned up. We need to make sure we have industries that can provide for families and our communities. We have got to make sure that those tax dollars, those billions of dollars spent by this Government, are being spent for all Australians not just for those few at the top of the pile.
One of the important things through this inquiry is that we have heard from employers that provide decent jobs having to compete with bad employers who provide insecure jobs. We have seen employers who provider proper payments and proper wages and we have seen employers, who turn around and don’t pay workers compensation, employ people as a gig, don’t pay them minimum wage, refuse to turn around and say that the system should be changed, whilst competing with decent employers that provide decent work for hard working Australians. This is a really important aspect for what the Government has to be considering. Are they going to stand by those people that build a better country, that pay decent wages, give secure jobs, workers compensation and insurance and superannuation or are do we want to continue to fund those companies that give gig work, insecure work, no superannuation, no workers compensation and have workers that aren’t able to raise a family. The choices are critical, and they are stark.