Careworkers' conditions need urgent reform, report says


The working conditions faced by front line carers need urgent reform, according to a new report by a network of Australian universities.

New research, by a network of Australian universities, outlines a series of workplace reforms to improve institutional care within a workforce that unions believe is facing increasing challenges.

Cath Tuari spent almost two decades providing in-home care to the elderly.

 While she enjoyed helping the elderly, she says the industry poorly prepared and supported workers, both mentally and financially, for the turbulent nature of the job.

"There was always a challenge. You could be faced with anything on any given day. You really walked in and never knew what you were going to face because of people's declining health or someone may have had a stroke, all that kind of thing," she said.

Moreover, she is concerned about working conditions faced by care providers becoming increasingly casualised.

She says the inconsistent hours take a toll on the quality of the care that workers are then able to give to their patients.

"There's been a big decline in working conditions sort of in the last three or four years because it was always secure work in the past and people had set hours and clients had particular carers. It has declined a lot because the workers become much more insecure," she said.

News of problems within the aged care industry is not new.

Failures of institutional care facilities were put into the spotlight by the Royal Commissions into Aged Care following a number of media investigations.

Now research by a network of universities is warning working conditions faced by front line carers within the industry could be contributing to the problem.

The report by the Work and Family Policy Roundtable, a multi-disciplinary network of more than 32 experts from 17 universities, wants to see reform of the national policy settings of work, care and family policies ahead of the Federal election. 

Roundtable Convenor and Sydney University Associate, Professor Elizabeth Hill says their report found an intrinsic link between poor working conditions and the deterioration of patient care.

"So in order to provide high-quality care services; aged care, child care, disability care, the research shows us that it is really important to have a high-quality care workforce and that there is a very strong positive link between decent conditions for frontline care workers and decent high-quality care provision," she said.

The report by the Work and Family Policy Roundtable recommended a series of reforms.

It suggested more money to be spent on care facilities, stronger regulations to prevent care workers being overworked, limits to the casualization of the care workforce as well as gender pay equality.

They're reforms the Australian Services Union believe are long overdue.

The ASU's Victoria and Tasmania branch secretary, Lisa Darmanin says conditions need to improve for both elderly and the workers who care for them.

"Quality care is absolutely reliant on quality wages and conditions of staff. And that means well-paid jobs where people feel valued, where they stay in the sector with good terms and conditions as opposed to casual and insecure work," she said.

Ms Darmanin says the high level of commitment of female workers in the sector also makes them the most vulnerable to insecurity.

"The members that we represent that work in the caring sector do not do this job for the money. They are absolutely committed to their clients and they are heartbroken by what is happening to the system. But they also need to pay the bills. We have members who are struggling, single mothers who have to have two and three jobs to make ends meet," she said.

A caregiver pushes an older woman in a wheelchair through a corridor  in a care facility
A caregiver pushes an older woman in a wheelchair through a corridor in a care facility

In a statement, the national body providing aged care services across residential and home care said: We support the report’s call for additional investment in aged care, noting that aged care providers are under significant financial pressure and public spending on aged care in Australia is low by international standards.

Former home carer, Cath Tuari not only wants to see conditions improve, but says she wants Australians to appreciate the sector more.

"I just wish that society would value the care industry much more, it is so undervalued, the workers working in that industry are just so completely undervalued for the things that they actually do for people that just go unrewarded and unrecognised. Until that happens we're not going to have a very high standard of care." 

An urgent change researchers say is needed to ensure societies caretakers are supported.

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