The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association’s Yass branch is holding a solidarity rally on Wednesday, April 27 at 10am outside the Yass Hospital.

The rally comes as a major push to increase aged care workers wages moved into the spotlight on Tuesday, April 26 when hearings began at the Fair Work Commission.

The Health Services Union (HSU) seeks to lift the wages of aged care workers by 25 per cent. The case covers personal care workers, recreational activities officers, catering, cleaning, administration and other staff.

Paul Haines, President of the Yass branch of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, said local nursing staff are rallying to show their solidarity for aged care workers and highlight the need for reform.

He added that he hopes the rally will provide more awareness to the community about the issues the healthcare sector are currently facing and encourage their involvement in the rally.

Current Member for Eden Monaro and Labor candidate in the upcoming Federal Election, Kristy McBain is set to give a speech on the issues the sector is facing. Alongside fellow Labor Party member Tanya Plibersek, the Shadow Minister for both Education and Women.

Entry-level personal care workers are currently paid as little as $21.96 per hour. The HSU is aiming to lift wages between $5.40 and $7.20 per hour to increase the average wage to $29 per hour.

From Tuesday HSU will argue the work of the aged care workforce is more complex and demanding than ever before.

“Aged care workers have endured horrendous working conditions over the last five years,” said HSU National President Gerard Hayes. “The funding is just not there to support the level of care older Australians deserve.”

Earlier this month Federal Labor set a one-year deadline to have a registered nurse in every aged care facility at all times, if it wins next month’s federal election. The commitment was outlined by Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese in his budget reply speech.

The President of the Yass Branch of the Nurses and Midwives Association said they are hoping the government will properly fund aged care.

“So that there’s actually a registered nurse on 24 hours a day, and so they can really do right by the clients in the home. Whether they need pain relief, or if they have some other medical issue, that doesn’t require hospital but needs a medical professional to assess them.”

The $2.5 billion dollar pledge also includes better food and safer conditions for residents. In addition to backing a pay rise for the aged care workforce, the Labor leader said they would work to raise the standard of care by implementing the recommendation of the aged care royal commission requiring that elderly people receive a minimum 215 minutes of care a day.

Labor aged care spokeswoman Clare O’Neil said paying nurses more would help attract staff.

“Our rule would take effect from 2023-24, so basically if Labor is elected in May, we will have just over a year to find the additional nurses that we will need for this commitment,” she said.

Last year, the Morrison government unveiled a $17.7 billion package to reform the aged care system. The reforms aimed to clear the homes care waiting list within two years and boost the aged care workforce.

However, advocates have argued $10 billion a year is needed to bring the sector up to scratch, and unions and providers expressed disappointment after the budget statement that the Coalition did not announce funds for a pay increase for workers. The Coalition has offered aged care workers pre-election bonus payments worth up to $800.

But the HSU National President said on Monday that the pandemic turned a desperate situation into a full-blown crisis.

“Aged care workers have strived to provide care, but they’ve been hopelessly understaffed and worked long stretches without access to vaccines or protective equipment,” he said. “The workforce has carried the cost of a callous, tight-fisted government that simply doesn’t care.”

Gerard said the HSU’s wage case is about rebalancing the scales and giving the aged care workforce the decency and dignity, they deserve.

By Brianna O’Rourke

Photo: NSW Nurses and Midwives Association Yass Branch Strike in Coronation Park in April (Brianna O’Rourke)