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New Zealand aged care providers struggle to attract workers despite pay rise – what lessons can Australia learn?


New Zealand made history last year when its 55,000 aged care, disability and home support workers won pay rises between 15 and 50 per cent, bringing their wages up to match those of workers in the hospital system.

New Zealand Aged Care Association CEO Simon Wallace

The New Zealand Aged Care Association (NZACA) had hoped the decision would be a “game-changer” for a sector that has traditionally struggled to attract workers.

But 12 months on, its CEO Simon Wallace has written a piece outlining their workforce challenges – and the similarities with Australia are striking.

Despite the pay rise and training opportunities, applications for aged care roles have not increased so clearly pay is not the issue.

Mr Wallace says young Kiwis are just not attracted to the sector – and they’re not staying once recruited. A high churn rate and an ageing workforce are two of their biggest problems.

Traditionally both countries have looked to migrant workers to fill the gap – around one-third of NZ’s aged care workers have some form of visa.

Immigration a big issue

But now they are being turned away by harsh immigration policies. In NZ, most migrant workers rely on a visa that must be renewed annually and offers no path to permanent residency. It then expires after three years – so workers must return to their home countries for a minimum of one year.

It’s a similar situation here. Foreign-born staff make up around 32% of aged care workers and 23% of home care workers, but Australia’s 2018 migrant intake is forecast to be its lowest in seven years – just 165,000 – led by cuts in the number of skilled and sponsored working visas.

Providers will take the hit unless the Government works to address these challenges now.

This week, the Chair of Australia’s Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce Professor John Pollaers presented their strategy – which includes recommendations for attracting and retaining staff – to the Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt.

His message to the Government – “act now”. We agree – we need to set up our aged care sector for success before it’s too late.

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.

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