Australian aged-care workers prepare for walkout during election season

Thousands of aged-care workers in three Australian States will be staging a walkout just weeks ahead of the federal parliamentary election. Unions have blamed the Scott Morrison government for the crisis that has been afflicting aged-care centers

May 03, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Australian aged-care workers stage a protest in March. Photo: United Workers Union/Twitter

Thousands of aged-care workers in Australia are set to walk out of jobs in an unprecedented industrial action. According to a statement released by the United Workers Union (UWU), more than 12,700 workers from over six major aged-care corporations are set to stage a walk-out on May 10.

Coming just weeks ahead of the federal parliamentary election scheduled on May 21, the action is intended to send out a message to the conservative Liberal-National Coalition government of prime minister Scott Morrison.

The action will affect some of the biggest aged-care providers in the country, including BlueCare, Southern Cross Care, Churches of Christ, Bolton Clarke, Regis Healthcare, and Aegis, among others. The walk-out will take place in around 160 facilities in the States of Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia, with rallies planned in major cities like Adelaide, Brisbane, and Perth.

Last month, the UWU organized an industrial action vote by aged-care workers, which was overwhelmingly supported across eight of the largest facilities. More than 90% reported to have voted in favor of the industrial action for the month of May, which apart from strikes also included a nationwide campaign.

“Aged care workers have been forced to take unprecedented strike action because of pay and conditions that are failing workers and failing residents,” said Carolyn Smith, aged care director of the UWU.

Workers have blamed the government’s negligence in addressing the issues afflicting a crisis-ridden sector. “Aged care workers are fed up with waiting, fed up with Scott Morrison’s incompetence and fed up with employers’ excuses,” Smith added.

While low wages and major staffing shortages have been the biggest issues raised by the union and workers, complaints have also been raised about possible siphoning of funds and non-delivery of funds recently earmarked to retain workers.

As the Morrison government starts facing the heat, the protest by aged-care workers and the bouts of crisis in the sector has increasingly found space in the upcoming election narrative.

Earlier this week, speaking at a May Day rally in Brisbane, Labor Party leader and prime ministerial aspirant Anthony Albanese promised to back wage rise in an ongoing Fair Work Commission litigation. The Labor Party has also promised to expand staffing, and to assign a qualified nurse at every aged care facility.

The crisis in the aged-care sector spiraled to catastrophic levels during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the union, during the Omicron-induced wave that hit Australia in late-December and January, over 1,150 residents aged care residents died. In January alone, deaths in aged-care facilities accounted for more than a quarter of the deaths nationwide.

Read | Australia’s aged-care crisis spirals out of control, healthcare unions blame government

On April 27, the UWU also released a series of testimonies, collected from workers in the sector narrating harrowing details of what it means to work as a care provider and also as a resident.

Thousands of reports were collected by the union, which Smith stated described conditions that left aged-care residents “unshowered, soiled and injured due to a lack of care.”

Talking about the testimonies, Smith also pointed out how the recently released Royal Commission report vindicated these findings, but very little was done in response. “Aged care workers were promised the Royal Commission would fix things. It didn’t – in fact things are worse,” she argued.

More damning was the report released on March 28 by the Centre for International Corporate Tax Accountability and Research (CICTAR), which said that aged-care operators are very likely misappropriating federal funds meant for upgrading crucial care services.

The report titled “Careless on Accountability, is Federal Aged Care Funding Siphoned Away?” named groups like Regis, Bolton Clarke, BlueCare, Southern Cross Care and Churches of Christ, among others, which have received hundreds of millions each in government funds but have reportedly made no improvements in the care provided.

The report also exposed a conspicuous lack of transparency or oversight on the part of the government over the usage of funds granted to these corporate houses. “It is a fresh outrage to aged care residents and workers alike that so much Federal Government funding is being given to providers, yet so little is tied to improving aged care,” Smith had said in response to the report.