Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Last week I met over Zoom with Wendy, Tracey, Rolanda and Sue. The Zoom meeting was with people from right across the country. They're aged-care workers and they're also proud members, as I am, of United Workers Union. They are angry because they've worked really, really hard in very dangerous situations over the last couple of months during this pandemic to keep safe and well Australia's most vulnerable citizens—those people who reside in aged-care and in home care. We've heard the Prime Minister of this country and indeed the Minister for Health tell us how important aged-care workers are.
So imagine their disappointment when they feel like they've been duped. They were angry, and it takes a lot for aged-care workers to get angry. They were angry because they were expecting a bonus of $800 in the case of some of these women and of $600 for the ones who work in home care work. They thought they were all going to get that bonus but, no, we have found out now that, despite the minister's media releases, the $800 and $600 retention bonuses will (1) be taxed, which is a complete breaking of the promise that had been given to those workers; and (2) only apply to some workers in aged care, to caring staff.
I don't know how many times the Prime Minister, the Minister for Health or the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians have been into an aged-care facility, but I've been into many. I started work as an organiser at United Voice in the aged-care sector. Let me tell you who are the bulk of the staff working in an aged-care facility. Guess what? They're not the care staff. They're the cleaners, they're the kitchen staff, they're the laundry workers, they're the outside staff and they're the bus drivers, and all of them have contact with residents. All of them do. All of them have put themselves at risk over the last couple of months during this pandemic, and all of them will be denied the retention bonus, which will be paid only to caring staff. Of course, caring staff are vitally important, but I would have thought that all staff in aged care also were vitally important.
Wendy, Tracey, Rolanda and Sue told me how angry they are. They're angry and they're disappointed and they feel like they've been let down by their government, as indeed they have. They asked me to speak tonight on this in the Senate and to ask the Morrison government to go back to the commitment that they made to these aged-care workers, that the retention bonus be paid to all aged-care workers and that it not be taxed upfront.
To add insult to injury, last week I heard from workers in Western Australia—but I am assured this is happening right across the country—that they're getting tested for COVID-19 in their own time. Their employer is not paying them to go off and get tested. Of course we want aged-care workers to get tested if they have a sniffle. Many of those workers—and they're predominantly women workers and they're predominantly low-paid and they're predominantly part time—are now having to go and have a test. But they have to lose a shift to go and have that test. If that is not adding insult to injury, I don't know what is. I would urge the aged-care minister to do something about that. Many of those facilities, sadly, are run for profit, and obviously many providers are putting profits before caring for their staff.
Mr Morrison and Senator Colbeck, I urge you to reconsider the decision and to pay the retention bonus to every single worker in the aged-care facility that you praised. You didn't just praise care workers. You and Minister Hunt said 'all workers'. You thanked all workers for the contribution they'd made. Let's make sure that the retention bonus goes to all workers—workers like Wendy, Tracey, Rolanda and Sue.