Labour shortages, low wages, and changing consumer expectations has led to thousands of aged care workers to go on strike on the 10th May, in the first ever strike of it’s kind.
“We have rarely seen industrial action in the aged care sector, and we have certainly never seen it at this magnitude. It’s numbers like I’ve never seen before.” – United Workers Union (UWU) aged care Director Carolyn Smith to the Guardian.
Challenges faced leading to a strike
The Aged Care industry in Australia has faced numerous challenges, both pre-COVID as highlighted in the Royal Commission and then exacerbated with the pandemic.
Insufficient manpower in the aged care industry
According to a survey conducted by the Health Services Union (HSU), members found 90% of their aged care facilities experiencing understaffing issues. 84% experiencing excessive workload, and only 36% are working in facilities with 12 hours shifts implemented. Besides being severely understaffed, the majority are working 16 hours.
There are almost 10,000 unfilled shifts in aged care, coming from a few thousand reports from the UWU whistleblower site Aged Care Watch. However, given the thin margins, not all aged care organisations can afford to hire more aged care workers.
Even with guidelines on identifying understaffed aged care facilities, demand for mandated staff to patient ratios, and additional training for aged care workers, the industry has been suffering for decades.
Underpaid for their workload and harsh working conditions
As of March 2022, the median wage for residential aged care workers in Australia was $28.70 per hour, while the median wage for a bartender was $30, while a cashier earns $31.79 per hour.
Furthermore, there isn’t enough budget allocated for the aged care industry. This leads to aged care providers not having the ability to afford more registered nurses to cope with the demanding workload.
Despite efforts to improve the situation, the government still has not rolled out vaccinations for aged care workers. Thus, workers are taking industrial action soon to get equal priority for vaccination shots.
Changing consumer expectations
Lastly, the reason for the vote to strike is the changing consumer expectations. Nowadays, especially with COVID-19, people who engage with aged care providers expect a higher level of care for the elderly.
The industry is adopting assistive technologies and a required digital care system to improve patents’ independence, as recommended by the Royal Commission. This provides a better understanding of the seniors’ lifestyles and better outcomes for the operations of the aged care system.
Like a double-edged sword, this can be beneficial for the aged care industry, as implementing technology in their care systems can ease the load on the aged care workers. Hence, aged care workers won’t be stretched as thinly, and it will be a great way to care for the workers’ mental and health wellbeing.
How can aged care organisations overcome or prevent this?
The straightforward answer to this question is implementing aged care technology and systems. There is constant pressure from the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal Commission for aged care providers to adopt and implement aged care technology.
Visitor Management Systems
The aged care providers can also implement visitor management systems, especially now that the safe management measures for COVID-19 are easing. This means more consumers and aged care workers will return to the facilities. So it’s crucial to track and manage the flow of visitors entering and leaving the facility.
Staff Management Systems
Staff management system also enables the rostering and shift hours of the aged care workers. As such, aged care facilities can ensure their workers are not overworking and have sufficient time to rest. This is fundamental in providing quality care and retaining the workers in the industry.
They can implement a managed IT system with cloud infrastructure to aid in enhanced information sharing between the providers and the commonwealth. The system can safeguard digital assets from data and privacy breaches. The system can also help the organisation remain in compliance with the changing regulations.
The IT system can manage end-user devices like tablets, laptops or smartphones for documentation and interaction with the elderly. This also promotes patients’ independence from aged care workers, as encouraged by the Royal Commission.
All in all, the legal industrial action set on 10 May was bound to happen sooner or later, with the dire conditions that the industry is in.
While the main reasons for the strike are insufficient staffing, underpaid workers and changing consumer expectation, it is not an exhaustive list.