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Nurses urge Gillard to bridge wages gap between aged care and hospitals

  • Ewin Hannan, Industrial editor
  • From: The Australian
  • March 21, 2011 10:36AM

THE Australian Nursing Federation is urging the Gillard Government to commit $513 million to close the wages gap between aged care and public hospital nurses across the country.

Lee Thomas, the union’s federal secretary, said the ANF was negotiating with aged care providers for a proposed framework agreement designed to commit employers to closing the wages gap and establishing “competitive wages” for aged care nurses.

Under the proposal, the union and providers would be able to access the government funding required to close the gap once an employer had struck an enterprise level agreement with their employees.

A draft report by the Productivity Commission aged care inquiry said there was a need to pay “competitive wages” to aged care nurses. However, the union has accused the commission of paying “scant regard” to the issue.

Union analysis of wage agreements in the public hospital sector and aged care sectors shows the average difference nationally has increased from 13 per cent in 2002 to 14.8 per cent this year.

In a speech last month, the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, noted the “challenge” of providing the aged care sector with a good, adequate supply of properly paid, adequately trained workers.

“I know, having represented aged care workers for 15 years before I entered Parliament in 2007, that the issues relating to workforce are broad and they’re deep,” Mr Butler said. “The wages gap for all occupations in aged care, whether residential or community, is significant. That is obviously not only an issue of fairness and equity for those who work in this incredibly important sector, but it’s also an issue of being able to recruit and retain the adequately trained workers we need to provide the quality care that we expect older Australians to receive.”

Ms Thomas, who is due to give evidence before the Productivity Commission inquiry when it convenes in Melbourne today, said the union did not walk away from the fact that the amount sought from the government was a “big number”.

But she said the wage disparity had led to a staffing crisis in aged care and if the gap was not closed, the sector would continue to struggle to attract employees.

The estimated cost of closing the wages gap has been adjusted by 30 per cent to accommodate provisions in workplace agreements and awards, including shift loadings, penalties, sick leave, and annual leave loadings. It has been further adjusted by 20 per cent to take into account salary on costs including payroll tax, workers compensation premiums and superannuation.

The estimates assume public hospital wages will increase an average 4 per cent annually while private aged care salaries will rise by 2 per cent a year.

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