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Aged care workers are underpaid when compared to Bunnings staff, union tells Fair Work Commission

Aged care workers are seriously underpaid when compared to Bunnings employees or traffic controllers who “twist signs on a road”, a major wage case has been told.

The Fair Work Commission, which is the independent wage umpire that sets the minimum rates for different industries, began its first day of hearings on Tuesday to decide whether aged care workers should get a 25 per cent pay rise.

Entry-level personal care workers can earn as little as $21.96 per hour, but the Health Services Union, which brought the case, wants to increase pay by between $5.40 and $7.20 per hour.

This would lift the average wage to $29 per hour for this workforce.

HSU National President Gerard Hayes, who was the first of more than 100 witnesses expected to be called in what will be a long-running case, said it had become clear to him from talking to members, delegates and staff that the aged care workforce was clearly under-resourced, underpaid and undervalued.

He was asked by lawyer Nigel Ward, who appeared for the employer interests, to outline how this was so.

Bunnings/Garden Centres
Camera IconAged care workers are underpaid when compared to people employed by Bunnings, the commission was told. NCA NewsWire/Gaye Gerard Credit: News Corp Australia

“Compared to someone working at Bunnings, to someone working at a pub or someone working by twisting a sign on the road,” Mr Hayes responded.

“It’s one thing in my mind to, you know, drop a can when you’re stacking shelves in Woolies.

“It’s another thing to drop a person, fracture their hip and they die.”

Mr Hayes, who worked as an intensive care paramedic from 1989 to 2000, said aged care workers also constantly had to deal with deaths of people they’d befriended.

“I suppose in my life, I’ve dealt with a lot of death — it comes with the job,” he said.

“But the death we would deal with was acute traumatic.

“The death people in aged care deal with is people they befriend and who become like family members, and they consistently die.

“You know, it might be 18 months, maybe two years.

“And so I think there’s a big difference in terms of doing what people do in aged care.”

Mr Hayes said he meant no disrespect to other workers.

The average salary for a traffic controller in Sydney is $130,000, although the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union has said that some earn $180,000 per year because of the booming construction industry.

The union said it was one thing to drop a can while stacking shelves at Woolies, but another to drop an elderly person causing them to die. NCA NewsWire/Nikki Short
Camera IconThe union said it was one thing to drop a can while stacking shelves at Woolies, but another to drop an elderly person causing them to die. NCA NewsWire/Nikki Short Credit: News Corp Australia

Mr Ward earlier told the hearing that the issue of a lack of full-time employment or hours for workers was not relevant in setting the minimum rate.

“That is not a proper consideration for setting minimum rates themselves,” he said.

The case covers personal care workers, recreational activities officers, catering, cleaning, administration, and other staff.

Both major parties have promised to follow the Fair Work Commission’s decision and increase subsidies to providers.

The Health Services Union wants a 25 per cent pay rise for aged care workers.
Camera IconThe Health Services Union wants a 25 per cent pay rise for aged care workers. Credit: Supplied

Labor leader Anthony Albanese has committed to funding the pay rise that is decided upon, although he has given specific dollar figures on the cost.

The Coalition has said it would negotiate with industry on how to divide up the price of implementing it the salary increase.

This could mean providers have to absorb some of the additional costs, with higher charges to residents being ruled out.

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