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Health workers across Australia ‘overworked and underpaid’ as Aged Care Royal Commission heats up

Difficult role: “Not many of us go to work every day knowing that someone who has been a friend for the last year or two is going to die today and die tomorrow and die next month and die next year.”

AUSTRALIA’S elderly suffer the indignity of poor care in an aged-care sector plagued by systemic problems, the royal commission into aged care has heard.

Health Services Union president Gerard Hayes described how care workers across the country were overworked and underpaid, while there was a lack of funding and a lack of resources.

“Because I think, to be quite honest, out of sight is out of mind,” Mr Hayes, an intensive care paramedic, told the commission.

“The morality of this country needs to be tested at this point in time. 

“Is it good enough to say (for) the people who went through the war years of the ’30s and the ’40s and the consequent years of rebuilding this country …, ‘Well, we don’t notice them every day so it must be okay?’

“I think this royal commission is going to see some staggering things that will come out because people just haven’t shone a light on it. 

“We need to be able to make sure that workers in the area – in the industry are able to go to work and be able to look after people.”

Yet, Mr Hayes said there was a severe lack of funding for services and he predicted demand for services would grow rapidly in the next 10 to 15 years.

“There’s a tsunami off the coast and it’s coming in,” he said.

Mr Hayes also told of how hard aged-care staff worked and how frustrated they were at not being able to do more in what was a unique industry.

“Not many of us go to work every day knowing that someone who has been a friend for the last year or two is going to die today and die tomorrow and die next month and die next year,” he said.

“Because that’s what happens to these people. 

“So it’s not a job where people can sit there and just clock on and clock off.

“This is a job where people want to look after individuals who become not residents, not some kind of client. 

“They become friends, they become family members.

“I think we need to be focusing on the workers and certainly on the residents and on the industry to make sure that Australia can stand up and say that we respect the people who actually got us here today.”

Earlier the commission heard from Catholic Health Australia director Nicholas Mersiades who said the organisation did not support the introduction of minimum staff-to-resident ratios, something he described as a “blunt instruent”.

He said there were other ways of addressing the problem, including upskilling of personal care staff and offering better pay.

Mr Mersiades also called for efforts to be made to change the perception of aged care.

“If you go to a barbecue and you say you work in aged care, they sort of look at you,” he said.

“The fact is that there’s a lot of negative publicity out there and a lot of mixed messages which is clouding the reputation of the sector as a desirable place for people to work.” 

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