A very courageous report from HRC equal employment opportunities commissioner Dr Judy McGregor was released today. This exceptional woman worked undercover in the elder care industry to find out for herself what is happening. We need more of this. There is too much pontificating from so-called experts who never get down and dirty and find out the real story. If they did, they might be giving different advice to the government.
Dr McGregor’s report describes the work of aged care workers as a form of modern-day slavery.
It offends against human decency. The reliance on the emotional umbilical cord between women working as carers and the older people they care for at $13-$14 an hour is a form of modern-day slavery. It exploits the goodwill of women, it is a knowing exploitation. We can claim neither ignorance nor amnesia.
McGregor goes on to question why DHBs pay equivalent health care workers in the Public Health Sector up to $5 an hour more, when both hospitals and aged care are funded by the government.
There’s a structural and legislative answer to that. Years ago, before the National Government of the 1990′s, there was an industry award for Aged Care workers (and Hospital Caregivers), but that was decimated with the labour market reforms in 1990. Thousands of aged care workers in the sector lost their minimum pay rates, overtime pay, weekend penal rates and qualification allowances. Over time, Religious and Welfare organisations (who weren’t perfect, by the way) exited, handing the sector over to international corporates who dominate aged care today.
So,what did Labour in government do? We changed the Employment Relations Act to enable multi-employer collective bargaining. That helped workers in the Public Hospital Sector, who managed to win multi-employer agreements. But it wasn’t enough for workers in Age Care, who are mainly women and part-time workers on low wages. Corporates resisted collective bargaining. Ryman Healthcare, for example. who has reported a huge profit, successfully evaded the collective bargaining requirements of the Employment Relations Act, reportedly paying up to $300 an hour for an advocate to sit at the table stymying good faith requirements.
Labour’s insistence that DHBs pass on targeted funding to providers giving an increase of $1 an hour to aged care workers ended up in Court. Some workers got the money ; others didn’t. The behaviour of the sector has demonstrated there is much more needed. Our 2011 work and wages policies for industry agreements would have made a difference, but one-eyed commentators from mainstream media didn’t get the picture.
Maybe they will now, when they understand that the reliance on the goodwill and commitment of low paid workers doesn’t mean better wages and conditions.
I’m hoping that if Judy McGregor talks to Kate Wilkinson soon she will explain that the government’s plans for big reforms to collective bargaining will make it worse, not better for aged care workers.
Like it or not, there’s no way this issue can be separated from the rights of aged care workers to have a voice, to collectively bargain and for a fair rate across the industry to be set – as it once used to be, in, according to National and some media commentators, the dark old days.
Doesn’t seem so archaic to me.