United Voice, the union for care workers, has provided evidence to the Royal Commission today outlining a positive blueprint for change for Australia’s aged care sector. This is the first time the Royal Commission has been presented with detailed information about the challenges facing residential and in-home personal care workers.

United Voice has told the Royal Commission that quality care of the aged is inextricably linked to a well-trained, fairly treated workforce.

“If they (workers) can see they will be remunerated appropriately for the value of the work that they do, if they can see opportunities for career progression, for continual learning, they will be more attracted to this sector,” United Voice representative Melissa Coad told the inquiry.

“Certainly it is our view that quality jobs are inextricably linked to the delivery of quality care. You can’t have one without the other.”

Evidence today focused on the dedication and commitment of aged care workers, but at the same time the difficulties they face delivering quality care in current working environments. Workers need to be central to reform of the industry because they’re the people on the ground with the knowledge of what is wrong and how it can be improved.

The United Voice evidence called for improvements including:

Time to care and workload – Members are particularly upset they can’t spend appropriate amounts of time with residents and say they do not have time to do their jobs properly and must rush through tasks such as showering, feeding and dressing. Some home care visits can be limited to just 15 minutes. Currently workers do not have time to care for older Australians at a suitable or emotionally sensitive and dignified pace. Members have described workloads as a conveyer belt of tasks that they have to undertake.

Qualifications and upskilling – Quality training is essential to the provision of quality care. United Voice believes entry level qualifications should be mandated in the sector. As well, our members are desperate for additional training to provide better quality of care - for example in dementia care, mental health care and palliative care. Ongoing professional development would open up opportunities for career progression.

Registration scheme – The union would like to see a registration scheme implemented that is broader than a police check – including minimum entry qualifications and ongoing training and education. Members tell us that such a system would help with recognition of the important work they do.

Attracting new workers – Australians will see opportunities to work in the sector in the future if they are renumerated properly and see opportunities for career progression. Residential aged care facilities are homes for the people residing in them – that needs to be captured in social and emotional needs of residents, and how workers can support them in such an environment. But low wages, insecure hours, a lack of training and career progression in the industry mean it is hard to recruit and retain young workers.

Unpaid overtime and purchasing personal items to provide dignified care – 30% of respondents in a 2017 survey said they undertook unpaid overtime. In home care, members regularly check in after hours on a person that they know has no family or other support. In residential care, workers return to the facility to spend their own time to sit with residents who are dying. And the sector’s low paid workers are purchasing personal care items from their own wages like clothes, incontinence pads and wipes (items that are regularly in insufficient supply). 

Funding changes – Changes to the funding of both residential and in home care have impacted care delivery. In our members’ view the main impact of these changes is a reduction in the level of quality care they are able to provide. Our members have reported a noticeable difference in staffing and resource levels. Inadequate funding mechanisms lead to high workloads, lack of care time, sort shifts, and high rates of part time

Helen Gibbons, Assistant National Secretary of United Voice says, “It’s an integral part of the Royal Commission to hear about the experiences of our aged care members, who know what is and isn’t working in the sector because they are doing the work all day, every day.

“If workers in aged care don’t have enough time, training or job security to offer high quality care, then no amount of other systemic reform will result in a quality aged care system.

“Quality conditions of work are essential for residents’ wellbeing, and workers’ ability to deliver quality care.” 

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