Message from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation
Lee Thomas, Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), presents this issue’s foreword.
After being elected in September this year, the new Abbott Government’s first significant act in the aged care sector was to suspend all applications for the Workforce Supplement for thousands of frontline nurses and care workers. Disappointingly, this occurred without any warning or consultation with the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) and our 230,000 strong membership.
The Supplement, as part of the agreed Workforce Compact, was the key driver in delivering a package of $1.2 billion in better wages, improved training and educational pathways for low paid aged care workers.
The Compact was specifically developed in close consultation with unions and aged care providers, as part of the Federal Government’s Living Longer Living Better reforms of the sector, handed down in the May 2012 Federal Budget.
Importantly for our members, it ensured for the first-time ever that Government funding had directly flowed into the pockets of Australia’s under-paid nurses and care workers.
After fighting so long for wage parity, aged nurses and carers were abandoned by the new Government, who we believe has placed the profits of providers over the interests of nurses and care workers and the older Australians they care for.
While the ANMF fully supports additional funding for the aged care sector, we believe improved accountability and transparency is critical. Every dollar spent must be focused on the quality of care received by residents in aged care.
For example, since 2002 there has been a range of Government funding initiatives directed at enhancing the capacity of aged care employers to offer competitive wages. This includes $211 million over four years in the 2002-03 Budget and a further $877.8 million over years from 2004.
But the sad fact is none of these additional funds were ever tied to workers in a transparent or accountable way and as a result, very few nurses or assistants in nursing saw any benefit from it.
The Government has to realise that any additional funds for the aged care sector must be acquitted appropriately and tying funding to a requirement that an employer has an industrial agreement with their workforce was the simplest and most transparent way to ensure that the money actually reaches nurses and other aged care workers. Otherwise, funding for the sector will yet again be in the hands of aged care providers, with no tracking and certainly no guarantee it will flow through to nurses and carers.
Already, the ANMF has approximately 90% of the aged care sector 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.
Placing $1.2 billion quarantined for promised pay improvements into a general funding pool, will be the same as directly taking the money away from Australia’s dwindling aged care workforce.
At nursing homes across Australia, it’s now not uncommon to have just one Registered Nurse (RN), with perhaps two personal care assistants, caring for up 100 residents, or sometimes even more.
Nursing and care staff continue to be run off their feet looking after residents with increasingly complex care needs, the Dementia epidemic is growing and Baby Boomers will be flood nursing homes over the next 20 years.
“While the ANMF fully supports additional funding for the aged care sector, we believe improved accountability and transparency is critical. Every dollar spent must be focused on the quality of care received by residents in aged care.”
Accordingly, the ANMF is concerned Australia won’t have enough nurses or care workers to deliver quality care to some of the most vulnerable people in the community, now and into the future.
As it stands, the country currently needs 20,000 nurses to work in aged care, as a matter of urgency. If there is any hope of recruiting or at least retaining the current nursing workforce, it is imperative that the Abbott Government closes the wages gap for aged care nurses and workers.
Nurse graduates must also be questioning if they have a future in aged care if poor wages and high workloads aren’t addressed by the Government, in consultation with unions and other stakeholders across the aged care sector.
As a result of the Government’s decision to walk away from the agreed Workforce Compact, we will continue to see more and more of the current nursing aged care workforce simply leaving the profession and it will be the older Australians primarily living in nursing homes, who will ultimately suffer through poorer care outcomes.
Lee Thomas is the Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation(ANMF), the second largest, and fastest growing union in Australia.
Lee’s priority for the ANMF is to ensure that it is one of the strongest industrial, political, professional and campaigning unions in Australia. Membership growth in the private and aged care sectors and increasing members power are paramount to Lee and the ANMF.
Lee commenced nursing as a personal care attendant in aged care and completed her general nurse and midwifery education in Adelaide. Lee also holds a Bachelor of Nursing and a neonatology certificate, is a registered midwife, and is currently studying a law degree.
Prior to taking on her current role Lee was ANMF’s Assistant Federal Secretary and served as Branch Secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation (SA Branch) for eight years, where she focused on membership growth and enterprise bargaining across all sectors.
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