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Sweet and sour: Shorten slams $800 aged care payment as 'sugar hit'

Politics

Labor has hit back at a federal government proposal to give aged care workers an $800 bonus, calling the boost a “sugar hit”.

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Labor government services spokesman Bill Shorten says the government needs to increase the base wage of aged care staff.

“Increase the base rate and the sugar hit wouldn’t be necessary. The base rate is what has to go up otherwise we are going to struggle to attract people to the industry,” he told the Nine Network.

“If you have to look after some of the most vulnerable people, some of who might have challenging conditions in residential care, is $22 an hour before tax enough? I think it isn’t.”

President of the Health Services Union Gerard Hayes said if it wasn’t so serious the announcement would be a joke.

“I don’t say these things lightly. We have been down this path for four years now, we have gone through a pandemic which has exemplified all our greatest fears,” he told Sky News.

Mr Hayes said if the prime minister was serious about change, he would support the application for a 25 per cent wage increase before the Fair Work Commission.

“People in aged care, their families, the community, are not so silly they foresee trinkets – we need a lot more than that,” he said.

The government has been criticised for the timing of the announcement, with one payment of up to $400 due this month and the second coming in May, when the federal election is expected to be held.

Labor’s aged care services spokeswoman Clare O’Neil called the move “an act of cynical politicking”.

“If Scott Morrison gave a stuff about aged-care workers he would be doing something more than giving them a pay rise that only lasts up until the next election,” she told the ABC.

“A pay rise that lasts up until the next election … will not do anything more than hold this thing together by a thread.”

But Superannuation Minister Jane Hume defended the timing, saying the government has provided support to aged care workers throughout the pandemic.

“We provided the aged care workforce with a bonus payment back in 2020 in recognition of the increased work and demands on the time they faced because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she told the ABC.

“The pandemic has lasted longer than anticipated and this does exactly that.”

The payments will be paid on a pro rata based on hours worked.

Staff providing care, food and cleaning services in government-subsidised facilities will be eligible as well as those in the federal home care scheme.

“There is demand on their time, they’ve been doing increased shifts, they’ve had to have a surge capacity workforce imposed upon them as well just to maintain the status quo,” Senator Hume said.

But the senator avoided providing support for a $5 an hour payrise, saying it was not a decision for the government.

“(The) increase would dramatically increase the cost of an aged care workforce, we want to make sure this is a sustainable system going into the future,” she said.

More than 400 virus deaths this year have been in aged care facilities, amounting to about a third of more than 1160 overall fatalities.

The minister responsible for aged care, Richard Colbeck, will on Wednesday front a Senate committee focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic.

He has come under intense fire for skipping an earlier hearing on January 14 and going to the cricket.

Australia recorded 44 virus deaths on Monday, 27 of them in NSW which also reported 13,026 new infections.

In Victoria, eight people died while 10,053 new infections were recorded.

South Australia reported six deaths and 1505 more cases, while Queensland recorded three deaths and 7462 new infections.

Another 760 cases were confirmed in the Northern Territory, 537 in the ACT and 504 in Tasmania.

Western Australia reported 12 new locally acquired infections.

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