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Because we care: pay rise for aged care nurses

Blog post by Senator Lee Rhiannon

I have signed up to the Because We Care campaign, as Australia needs more than 20,000 additional nursing staff to care for older Australians in residential aged care.

Judith Nicholas, an aged care nurse, and Stella Topaz, a Professional Officer with the NSW Nurses' Association, visited my office last week. We swapped notes on the campaign for additional funding to close the growing gap in wages paid to nurses in aged care compared to those who work in hospitals and they asked me to sign the pledge for this campaign, which I was very happy to do.

Judith explained how the problems started when former prime minister John Howard introduced self regulation into the Aged Care Act in 1997. In the nursing home where Judith worked hours worked by registered nurses was immediately cut by 76 hours.

The impact of the changes has meant less pay for nurses, and lower standard of care for patients. There are not enough nurses to do all the jobs required, which means those still working in aged care centres are heavily over stretched.

Judith described how care for the elderly was compromised with patients waiting longer for their medication, and to be fed and bathed. With a drop in their wages many nurses left the aged care
sector.

This issue needs to be a federal government priority with aged care policy about to experience a major overhaul. We need to get it right. Central to any reforms in this sector has to be a commitment to raise the wages of nurses who work in aged care.

The Nurses Association is proposing a National Framework agreement that if adopted would provide additional funding to close the wages gap and would be implemented through enterprise bargaining.

I’m still shocked when I hear that nursing staff in aged care are paid $300 a week less than colleagues working in other parts of the health system. And it is not their colleagues in other parts of the health system are on a high wage.

This is a great campaign that goes to the heart of what type of society we wish to live in. I urge that you visit the Because We Care website and take action.

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