The conversations of life

Aged care workers need more respect, not “a better job”: PM’s comments underscore ‘image problem’


If you haven’t been following the story this week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull raised a few eyebrows this week in Parliament while debating the Government’s $144 billion personal income tax plan with Bill Shorten.

Asked about whether aged care workers should become wealthy bankers if they want better tax breaks, the PM stated: “The 60-year-old aged-care worker in Burnie is entitled to aspire to get a better job.”

Mr Turnbull has already backtracked on the comments following backlash from Labor and the public, but it has drawn attention to a major issue in the sector: that we don’t put enough ‘value’ on the work of our aged care staff.

Working in the sector, I’ve often heard workers express frustration that their job is written off as ‘women’s work’ or ‘babysitting’ – despite many having years of experience.

This is not only reflected in the public perception.

As we covered here, personal care attendants earn even less than childcare workers – even rates of pay for registered nurses are lower than for those working in the hospital system.

Changing attitudes towards aged care work

The fact is these are the workers who will care for our parents – and us – when we are older. It is not an easy job to do with long hours, shift work and time away from families and it’s one that should command the respect – and pay – to match.

It’s also one of our fastest-growing sectors – in the last year, community services and development job ads jumped 49 per cent on SEEK, with aged and disability support made up 33 per cent of those ads.

But 23 per cent of workers say they are planning to leave the sector within the next five years according to HESTA’s recent report on the aged care workforce. Why?

Surprisingly only 22% said they were not being paid enough. Rather 49% said they wanted to develop new skills while 38% wanted to try something different.

Currently most aged care roles don’t offer a clear career path, such as mentoring, training others or doing further training to become a nurse or manager.

We need to provide these options if we’re going to retain and attract workers.

The Government has established an Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce and part of their mandate is to ensure these career opportunities exist.

The PM himself has said that aged care workers were “entitled to get a promotion, and earn more”.

With the Taskforce due to submit their report by 30 June, now is the time to make it happen.

A practising aged care physiotherapist for the past 13 years, Jill has worked in more than 50 metropolitan and regional aged care homes. She has also toured care facilities across the US and Africa. She is a passionate advocate for both the residents in aged care and the staff that serve them.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. Richard Gray AM

    I’m sure the PM was referring to aged care workers as aspiring to get a better job in aged care. And why shouldn’t they?

  2. Re: “Surprisingly only 22% said they were not being paid enough. ”
    It’s not really surprising, Jill. Australians have had decades of training to
    ” aspire to get a better job” rather than expect a fair day’s pay for the work they already do. The conservative version is work harder, earn more; the liberal version is educare yourself, earn more.

    Those of us working in poorly paid industries like aged care and disability support have been well taught to expect nothing more- and we have the riches of personal satisfaction to compensate for the thin pay packet and thinner superannuation when we retire, don’t we?

    *And after all, they’re easy jobs- you can tell by all the photos accompanying the articles on personal care work. All those smiley people. Just like nice visits with nanna or your sweet cousin with Down Syndrome who loves everyone and is always cheerful. It’s all shiny, happy people holding hands.

    *sarcasm alert

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