The Albanese government will advocate for a “significant, meaningful” pay rise for workers in the aged care sector, according to the aged care minister, Anika Wells.
The comments on Sunday come ahead of a submission from the federal government to the Fair Work Commission case considering unions’ call for a 25% pay rise to reflect the increased value of aged care work.
Labor has committed to pay for whatever rise is ordered by the commission, a key demand of aged care providers and unions who fear that without government support a growing wages bill could threaten the viability of some providers.
“We need to do something to value aged care workers better and that starts with a pay rise,” Wells told Sky News on Sunday.
“We haven’t put a number to it because traditionally governments don’t … that is for the commission to decide, exactly what percentage the work value cases is worth, but we have agreed that we will fund it no matter what the decision.”
The approach to pay in aged care contrasts with Labor’s handling of the minimum wage.
In the election campaign, Anthony Albanese said he “absolutely” backs a pay rise of 5.1%, or $1 an hour, in line with inflation at the time.
The commission’s decision to order a pay rise of 5.2% was an early win for the Albanese government, but inflation continues to outpace wages and is tipped to reach 7.75% in the December quarter.
In the aged care sector, unions are advocating for at least a $5 an hour pay rise for employees in the wake of the royal commission, which recommended a wage increase to reflect the value of their work.
Pay is also a key factor for attracting workers in an extremely tight labour market, which Wells said could encourage former employees to return to the sector and current employees to take more hours.
Wells said it was “galling” that the Coalition had questioned how Labor could fulfil its promise to put a nurse in aged care centres 24-7 given workforce shortages, “a problem that nine weeks ago they themselves had no intention of doing anything about”.
In the first fortnight of parliament, Labor passed an aged care bill increasing funding per patient by 10%, instituting a code of conduct and star ratings for providers.
Wells said she wanted the star rating to be set up as soon as possible and was hopeful it could be done by the year’s end.
Wells said the government is focused on improving the standard of aged care but it must be done in a sustainable way.
“These reforms have to outlast us all and I know that I won’t be able to leave my office … knowing that I have fixed aged care for once and for all because it’s huge,” she said.
“We have to look at reform that will make this change not only meaningful but sustainable.”