Home' Australian Ageing Agenda : AAA Jan-Feb 2017 Contents As Joanne Christie, chief of people and culture
at The Bethanie Group, a major provider in
Western Australia, told the Senate inquiry: “We
pay exceptionally well in the industr y. We are one
of the top-five payers for WA, and we would pay
about $23.50 an hour. We are finding it okay to
attract people at that rate at the moment.”
Money matters, especially when aged care
facilities are competing with others in the health
system, as Southern Cross Care’s Pearl facility
told the inquiry’s Dar win hearing.
“Twice a year the hospital here recruits a large
number of personal care workers and we have
a mass exodus at that time,” said Sylvia Treacy,
residential ser vices manager.
“It then takes us another six months to recoup
and train up new carers. That is a significant
problem. When I do exit inter views I hear that
the primar y reason for leaving is financial.”
BaptistCare similarly told the inquiry it
competes for staff with hospitals.
“Certainly that will continue to be an
ongoing challenge if we do not look at our own
appropriate remuneration rates,” the provider’s
chief operation officer Rebecca Tomkinson told
the Perth hearing.
While many care workers and nurses leave
the sector in search of better pay, others look at
earning similar wages in less demanding roles.
Jacinta Robinson, positive ageing specialist
with Anglicare SA, recounted the stor y of a
carer whose 17-year-old son worked in the
local pub collecting glasses. “He got paid more
than she did, when she was dealing with people
with dementia, some challenging issues and
medications,” said Robinson.
Brett Holmes, general secretar y of the
NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, said
his union compared pay rates and found those
manning checkouts for Woolworths got paid
more than AINs.
“Like it or not, wages matter. Being able
to put food on the table and a roof over your
head really does matter when you are choosing
[jobs],” Holmes told the inquiry.
Similarly, Krystal Laurentsch from the WA
Primary Health Alliance noted that with an
average pay rate around $19 “there is quite an
availability of other jobs that hold much less
accountability and have a much lower workload.”
The value of work
Many aged care workers feel they are under-
appreciated and the low rates of pay simply
reflect the value that society places on their work.
In fact, many resent the lack of recognition
that is signalled by the low pay, says Therese
Jefferson, a Professor in Curtin University’s
Graduate School of Business.
Jefferson was part of a research team that
sur veyed 4,000 women working in aged care and
found the low pay and perceived worth of the
work had an adverse effect on their motivation to
stay in the sector.
“The low pay did two things; firstly it makes
it harder to sur vive if you’re tr ying to live on
a low wage, but secondly we found that even
the workers who could afford to stay working
in aged care, often because they had a partner
who was better paid, really resented the lack of
recognition that was indicated by that low pay,”
Jeffersen tells Australian Ageing Agenda.
than $450 a
“There was a feeling that the community
doesn’t care about the work they’re doing even
though it’s really important, and that had an
adverse effect on people’s motivations to stay in
Jeffersen’s study, published in 2013, found
that 43 per cent of the aged care workers said
they had thought about leaving the sector in the
When asked why, the top issue highlighted
was the physicality of aged care work (24 per
cent), followed by the feeling their work wasn’t
valued (20 per cent) and dissatisfaction with pay
(19 per cent).
Along with resenting the low pay, many
workers expressed concerns about their
superannuation balances, Jeffersen says, often
reporting they simply couldn’t afford to stop
working when they reached retirement age.
Inadequate super another blow
Which leads to the other structural issue facing
aged care workers and nurses: a career earning
low wages, often on a part-time or casual basis
and with periods out of the workforce to raise
children, means many are looking at disturbingly
low superannuation balances.
Mar y Delahunty, general manager business
development and policy at HESTA, the
superannuation fund covering many of the
sector’s care workers and nurses, says the typical
fund member is 43 years old and has around
$18,000 in her superannuation account.
“At the moment women are retiring with
around 44 per cent less super than men – across
all sectors, not just health and community
ser vices,” Delahunty tells AAA.
“Health and community ser vices will see a
bigger gap between women and men because
they have a bigger pay equity gap. On average
we’re seeing a $142,000 gap in retirement
savings in the sector as a whole,” she says.
Delahunty also points out that woman will
live on average five years longer than their male
colleagues. “Whatever she has managed to save
throughout her working life has to actually last
longer,” she says.
HESTA has been advocating on the gender
pay gap and the low retirement savings for sector
workers, and while Delahunty welcomes the
increased recognition of the issue in recent years
she’s concerned about the apparent lack of will
among policymakers and government to tackle it.
One straightfor ward measure would be to
remove the so-called $450 threshold, under
which employers are not required to pay
superannuation to employees earning less than
$450 a month, she argues.
“I see this as a growing problem, with the rise
of consumer directed care we could have these
workers not accruing superannuation simply
because they get caught under a really antiquated
threshold,” Delahunty says.
Increase the funding
Meanwhile, at the Senate inquiry’s hearings,
aged care providers have been laying the
blame for the sector’s low wages with the
Commonwealth, which sets the level of funding
Nick Mersiades, aged care director for
Catholic Health Australia, noted that 70 per cent
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