A Senate inquiry into the future of Australia’s aged care workforce has been extended by a further two months to enable additional public hearings in remote areas.
The committee will now report back by 21 June 2017, more than year after submissions closed.
Chair of the References Committee Membership, Senator Rachel Siewert, said that while the delay was not intentional it would allow time for more data to be considered, including she hopes from the latest national aged care workforce census.
“The reason for the extension is because we haven’t had a chance to get around to all the places we need to go,” Ms Siewert said.
“We need to get out to Aboriginal communities because one of the strong things that has come out of this is that the current approach isn’t working in these communities, both in residential and home care.”
“It’s a happy coincidence that we should also have additional data to consider, hopefully from the census and from better understanding the impact of the home care changes.”
“At the back of my mind, and I’m sure the minds of others, is the question of how the home care changes are impacting workforce,” she said.
“We need to get more feedback on how that’s progressing and now we can.”
“Other issues that have come out are the regional and remote issues, issues around casualisation have come up strongly, issues around training, being able to access staff, remuneration is a major, major issue and then you’ve got the 24/7 RN quotas,” Ms Siewert said.
The inquiry received 12 submissions from industry stakeholders including LASA, ACSA, the Aged Care Guild, ANMF, Uniting Care, Illawarra Forum and Hall and Prior back in March 2016.
However, what most stakeholders are anticipating is the results of the latest aged care workforce survey, which is run by Flinders University every five years.
The last survey was released in 2013, and the current one was due to Government early this year and will be published in April.
ANMF CEO, Lee Thomas said the survey will provide valuable insight into the workforce make up and the extent of casualisation of the workforce.
Last week the ACTU’s new secretary Sally McManus said it will be targeting aged care to tackle increasing casualisation and boost union membership, which Ms Thomas estimates to be around 50 per cent of the aged care workforce.
“The last time the survey was completed was 2013 and since then there has been significant reform in the sector,” Ms Thomas said.
“[The Census] will give us a much clearer understanding of the numbers in the sector as compared to our density. Having said that we estimate national [union membership] to be approximately 50 per cent.”
The aged care peak bodies are doing their best to push for solutions to some of the workforce issues given the delays that been experienced with the Senate inquiry, and recently put forward a joint proposal to get Government support for an industry-led workforce strategy.
LASA CEO Sean Rooney said LASA is working with Members, Government and other stakeholders on a workforce strategy for the industry.
“LASA, ACSA and others have put a proposal to Government seeking their support for an industry-led approach to developing an appropriate workforce strategy to address current and future issues,” he said.
While the proposal has pre-empted the Senate inquiry report – which had been due at the end of next month – Ms Siewert said it is unlikely anything will happen until the inquiry has handed down its report.
“I suspect Government will be paying close attention to what comes out of this process. It has been extremely thorough and there a lot of complexities involved with many of these issues,” she said.
ACSA CEO Pat Sparrow said the focus of the strategy will be on providing certainty to the industry about the viability and sustainability of quality services.
“Development of such a strategy within the context of a consumer-driven and market-based service industry, would consider issues such as casualisation and support the industry address future aged care workforce and worker requirements,” she said.
“Aged care dealt with penalty rates in our award modernisation a number of years ago and the recent decision is specific to the hospitality and retail sectors.”
“Our industry’s higher penalty loadings is actually a competitive advantage and attraction for hospitality and retail workers, and we are hearing stories on the ground from providers that hospitality workers are making enquiries about working in the aged care sector,” she said.
“There is an increasing need for skilled aged care workers and it is crucial that we retain and attract more workers to the industry.”
The need for such a strategy to encompass NDIS services and be endorsed by the nurse and carer peak bodies is paramount to its success, however Ms Thomas said the ANMF has not been involved in the aged care peaks’ proposal.
Despite some points of difference on workforce issues such as whether or not aged care providers should have 24/7 RNs, Ms Thomas said one of its core interests is better funding for aged care.
“We have for many years been promulgating a position for the implementation of a financial transaction tax which would significantly improve the overall budget position and allow the Australian Government to adequately fund big portfolios such as health, education and aged care.”
“Alas, neither major party sees benefit despite it only effecting the top 0.5 per cent of big business.”
Ms Siewert said that it’s vital all stakeholders are on board and engaged in the process of addressing aged care workforce issues.
“NACA is very useful in that it brings together many different groups, but if we’re going to address this properly, everyone needs to be involved.”