Aged care staff are paying for work expenses out of their own pockets, despite it being a widely acknowledged fact they are underpaid.
All too often home care staff will pick up the tab for an outing with a client, paying for their client’s coffee or movie ticket on a day out. On their own, each outing might not seem like a large expense. Warm-hearted staff might think it’s worth the cost to see their client smile, but over time these costs can accumulate into significant amounts.
Residential aged care staff are also being left out of pocket, often having to pay for their own training, first aid courses and police checks.
Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney, told HelloCare that staff should not have to cover their own expenses.
“The desire of staff to step in where they see a gap is understandable and commendable – and we are fortunate to have such committed people working in our industry,” he said, “but no employee should be forced to pay for the costs of care out of their own pocket.”
The issue of staff being left out of pocket after paying for work expenses was raised at the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. A panel of four home care workers, Anna Hansen, Heather Jackson, Sally Warren and Rosemary Dale, who together have 44 years of aged care experience between them, told the commission they are expected to pay for any additional training they do.
“It is largely up to these lowly paid workers to pay for any additional training they undertake,” the royal commission’s Interim Report states.
Aged care staff underpaid by 15%
The requirement for staff to cover their own expenses is particularly galling because aged care workers are so poorly paid.
The Aged Care Workforce Taskforce’s report noted that aged care staff are underpaid. It said personal care workers are underpaid by 15 per cent and nurses working in aged care are paid around 10 per cent less than their peers in acute care.
Providers should pay
Australian Nursing and Midwifery federal secretary, Annie Butler, told HelloCare that aged care providers should pay for expenses nurses and carers incur as part of their work. Courses and training should also be conducted during work hours, she said.
“The cost of all mandatory training, such as first-aid courses, should be met by the employer and conducted in paid time. Most workplace agreements will cover this,” Ms Butler said.
“If the employer requires staff to undertake the training, then usually this cost would be met by the employer and done during work hours, as it’s a direction around how your work is to be done.”
Ms Butler also suggested that police checks should be paid for by employers.
“It’s the position of the ANMF that the cost of police checks should be met by the employer and a number of Enterprise Agreements in the aged care sector do provide for the cost to be met by the employer.
“In some Agreements, the initial police check is met by the employee with renewals paid for by the employer subject to a qualifying period of employment, whilst in other Agreements the employer pays for full time employees only.”
“Nurses and carers in the sector are overworked and underpaid”, Ms Butler said.
“They shouldn’t have to be paying out of their pockets for work-related training and expenses – that’s the obligation of their employer.”
Providers struggling to cover costs of care
Mr Rooney said if staff find themselves in a situation where they are being left out of pocket, they should raise it with their managers.
“Where staff see needs that are not being met they should raise this with their supervisor, or their client’s care manager rather than seeking to cover the costs themselves, noting that many home care clients have significant unspent funds that can be reallocated. Providers should also be able to offer staff clear guidelines on which expenses are eligible for funding under a home care package,” he said.
Whether or not the costs of training and police checks are covered by an employer will depend on each employee’s contract, Mr Rooney said.
“Responsibility for covering employment related costs such as training and police checks… are determined by a person’s employment contract, both in aged care and other industries,” he said.
“Providers would like to be able to offer their employees more attractive conditions but they also need to be conscious of providing the best possible value for money for their clients, and maintaining the services ongoing viability.”
“Sadly funding is sometimes insufficient to pay for everything that an older person wants or needs,” Mr Rooney said, adding that operators “often” sacrifice profits in order to meet a care recipient’s needs.
With Australia expected to need one million aged care workers by 2050 to care for the country’s burgeoning ageing population, we should be doing all we can to make working in the sector more attractive. Making sure already underpaid staff aren’t being left out of pocket is the least we can do.
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