Do both aged care and child care workers deserves wage increases?

Ross Greenwood speaks to Work and Family Policy Roundtable Co-Convener Sarah Charlesworth after Bill Shorten’s announcement of a pay increase for early childhood workers has been met with criticisms, with some saying Aged Care workers also need a pay rise.

Ross Greenwood: I think we told you about last night was Bill Shorten and his policy, to not only subsidize for those people who have got combined incomes of less than $174,000 a year, a subsidized childcare which would enable more people to be able to make the decision to have a second income to take financial pressure off. He also said that childcare workers perform some of the most important tasks in this nation and they deserve a pay rise.

As a result, the government would, from taxes raise from other taxpayers in this nation, provide a 20% pay rise to those workers over the first eight years of a labor government. As many people have asked, “What about others?” For example, this is what Bill Shorten had to say about aged-care workers today and whether they should get a pay rise.

Bill Shorten: I think that aged-care workers are underpaid. We’ve got a royal commission on the way. Let’s see what the royal commission produces in the way of it. I want to pay a compliment to our aged-care workers. They do a lot of work with a lot of vulnerable people. The solution that we’ve looked at for early childhood educators is a recognition that nothing else is worked, they are underpaid, they’re highly trained.

Ross Greenwood:  If we say, for example, the dental care bill, the childcare bill plus the bill that try and get an increase in wages for childcare workers is going to cost the best part of $4 billion. Bill Shorten says while there’s about $6 billion extra that he’s going to raise through the redistribution of taxes which will come out of the pockets of people who are negatively gearing properties, out of the pockets of those people who are receiving dividend imputation credits right now, out of the pockets of those people who are selling assets for capital gains. Presuming that those people don’t change their habits, which they will, I’ve got to tell you, and if the government gets all the money or the future labor government gets all the money it is intending to receive, then what happens when the next set of workers come along if they are aged-care workers? Mr. Shorten yesterday said, “We have picked childcare workers to go first.”

Well, that certainly implies that others will come later. Will it be childcare workers? Now, what’s happened in the last period of time is that there has been a very significant roundtable that’s been undertaken. Effectively, this particular roundtable has been done to effectively work out, whether those working in the aged-care sector are getting the right, well, not only working conditions, but also the right level of remuneration.

If I look at the employment website called Neuvoo, well, it says right now, an average childcare salary is $50,276 a year. For those in the aged-care sector, it’s $52,650 a year. A little more, but not much more. The Australia Work and Round– Sorry, I should say that again, the Australia Work and Family Policy Roundtable, a research network of 32 academics from 17 universities took place in May this year. It’s going to take place ahead of the federal election. Now, Sara Charlesworth was a co-convener of this roundtable and is online right now. Sarah, many thanks for your time.

Interview with: Sarah Charlesworth, Co-Convener, Work and Family Policy Roundtable

Sarah Charlesworth: Pleasure, Ross.

Ross Greenwood:  Can you just explain to me, in regards to the roundtable, what you’ve discovered in terms of not only the conditions under which aged-care workers operate, but also their salaries as compared with others?

Sarah Charlesworth:  Certainly. Well, I should say that the roundtable is an ongoing effort and it’s making all the researchers who take part in it had been long-term researches in the area of family work care general area and a number of us are experts in childcare and the childcare workforce to work. I personally do a lot of work around the aged care and aged-care workforce. Still a lot of us do work around disability support and the disability support workforce. Basically, now, policy benchmarks, which are based on research evidence, we’re arguing that as a nation, we need to be better supporting our front line care workforce.

They’re absolutely crucial to the delivery of high-quality services that are valuable generally, but also for community and that are really vital to individual and family well-being. That’s basically our ask. We haven’t put a premium ongoing search with childcare workers as opposed to aged-care workers. I think it’s just a “who do you save here.” There’s lots of arguments that they’re fairly similar, but particularly in childcare, for a long time, these workers have been increasingly asked to have higher qualifications. The big concern, particularly in childcare is that despite getting higher qualifications, a lot of workers are still on the regular wage.

Ross Greenwood:  Was interesting because we were talking with the childcare sector yesterday and you also, you even heard Bill Shorten saying- he’s been saying, “Well, the fact of the matter is that is it the consumer that should pay more for better qualified people looking after their kids?” Is that actually the operators who should pay more or is that the government, the taxpayers should pay more? This is the real issue because at every level, we want better and better care. We want higher qualifications for that care. Yet, we somehow have got to try and find the money and the question of who pays is always the big problem.

Sarah Charlesworth:  Look, I certainly think that that is the case, but what we’re talking about a kind of basic public services that might, for example, go along with education, nobody quibbles that we need the taxpayers’ dollars to be able to resource education and indeed, in some states like Victoria, we also resource kindergarten care, for example. It’s basically saying that if we’re doing that and in all those sectors, disability, childcare, aged care, the government authority putting in significant sums of money because that’s what our society expects already.

There’s a lot of co-contributions. Parents, aged people and their families are contributing significant amounts of money to their care. People with disability are also- their families and individuals are contributing significant amounts of money to their care. It’s basically saying that as a civilized society, we need to look after particularly vulnerable groups and each of these groups who use these services are vulnerable for particular reasons.

In terms of children, if we talk about a childcare, the need for childcare in Australia, we really want to make sure that children have the best start in life. At the other end-of-life where we have got older people who need to be supported to stay at home for as long as they can to maintain independence. To many older people, that independence can only be achieved by some home care support.

That’s currently the subject of the royal commission which you also mentioned, I think Bill Shorten has mentioned, that we’re placing enormous amounts. We’ve got an aging population. We’re also at the other end, which is good for Australia, generally. We’ve got increasing numbers of young children and it’s really vital for the future.

Ross Greenwood:  You and roundtable must grapple with this all the time, Sara. That is, we know that Australia has got a good economy, a strong economy, one of the very best in the world, but there’s still an aging population. These precious– I’m not going to diminish, they’re only going to get bigger as time goes on. The costs are only going to get bigger. The number of taxpayers, the younger end of the marketplace, if you like, is diminishing. There’s actually long-term, fewer net taxpayers in the marketplace. There’s a real pressure.

You can feel that the pressure cooker is building up. The question, what the taxpayers would ask is, really, “Is it up to us to constantly be paying more to make certain standards of living. We want those better standards of living. We understand it, but it’s still a frustration that you just wonder whether there really is enough money to go around to keep everybody to the standard that we would like them to be kept.”

Sarah Charlesworth:  It’s also about an economic argument because, for example, the childcare policy as it’s currently set up in Australia is very much about getting mothers back into the paid workforce to be contributing tax dollars. Aged care and–

Ross Greenwood:  You see, Sara, I totally get that and I totally get that with childcare. I totally get that with mothers coming back in. Is it one of the real problems when it comes to aged care, not really being careless about this that old Australians, in many case, beyond their productive lives and it’s about dignity, it’s about respect, it’s about all those things. You’d see where the investment goes into the kids and the young kids, but you’ve questioned whether the society’s got that view about older Australians.

Sarah Charlesworth:  Well, and I think and hopefully, the royal commission will lead to a lot of those in our society changing our minds. I think we’ve got what I would view as a payer’s review to older Australians that we think will keep them comfortable till they die, but I think we need a much more positive attitude. We ought to be helping older Australians live their lives as fulfillingly as they are able. I think that some countries are starting to do that.

New Zealand, for example, has recently put a lot of money into the aged-care workforce and to aged care generally because of the growing community sentiments that we need to pay more respect to our older residents. There are examples out there where certain societies are valuing their elders as much as they look at putting in a home investing in a good start for children.

Ross Greenwood:  I’ll tell you what. Great to have you on the program. Sara Charlesworth is a co-convener of the Work and Family Policy Roundtable which is putting these ongoing recommendations to government. It’s a real debate that Australians are going to have long term and of course you want the money going into the aged care, you want the respect, you want to make certain your seniors are being looked after well. The question is who pays and how much are we prepared to pay? I think it’s a really interesting one. The professor at the School of Management at the RMIT and Sarah Charlesworth, I appreciate your time on the program this evening.

Image source: 2GB

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