Aged care sector workers win initial 15% pay increase - Will ECEC be next?
The Sector > Workforce > Advocacy > Aged care sector workers win initial 15% pay increase – Will ECEC be next?

Aged care sector workers win initial 15% pay increase – Will ECEC be next?

by Jason Roberts

November 11, 2022

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has recently handed down a pay determination that will see direct care workers in the aged care sector receive an increase of 15 per cent to their modern award wages, with the potential for a further set of increases in the future. 


The decision represents a significant breakthrough in how the FWC is now approaching equal remuneration and “value of work” cases in sectors that have traditionally been dominated by female workforces. 


Importantly, the FWC commission’s decision on the aged care application confirmed that it no longer considers comparisons between awards based on qualifications to be relevant benchmarks, particularly when they refer to male dominated sectors, and that “invisible skills” assessment is central to determining “value of work”


The key driver to the aged care decision was an assessment of “work value” which takes into account the nature of the work, the level of skill and responsibility involved and the conditions under which the work is done. 


At this juncture the aged care decision extends to all contact based team members, with support office and administrative functions to be evaluated after a further round of consultation and decision making. 


The timing of the 15 per cent increase is also not confirmed but is expected to be in due course. 


Parallels between early childhood education and care and aged care workforces strong


Given the similarities between aged care workforce and the ECEC workforce, including the high degree of female workers, the vocational qualification requirements, the relatively low award pay levels and the mastery and application of a range of “invisible skills,” the FWC’s decision should be of significant interest to the ECEC sector.


The recognition of a set of “invisible skills” that have not been captured in the current modern award minimum rates applicable to roles is a major breakthrough and provides a framework to evaluate the value of care based work more effectively. 


These are sometimes considered to be part of the “emotional labour” that women bring to their roles and include the following: 


  • Contextualising: Building and shaping awareness through sensing sensing contexts or situations, monitoring and guiding reactions and judging impacts


  • Connecting: Interacting and relating through negotiating boundaries, communicating verbally and non-verbally, working with diverse people and communities


  • Coordinating: By sequencing and combining activities, interweaving your activities smoothly with those of others and maintaining and/or restoring workflow


The combination of these skills is central to success in education and care roles and extends across work environments such as ECEC and aged care very easily. 


Prospects for ECEC wage increases have improved but will take time


Although the aged care sector wage announcement bodes well for the ECEC sector, any changes to the sector’s Modern Awards have to go through a formal process that can take time to resolve. 


Firstly, a group, such as a Union or a Peak Body needs to lodge a formal application to vary the current minimum wages under the award. This application is made to the FWC. 


Secondly, the FWC then considers the requests made in the application. This requires an extensive period of review and can sometimes draw on reports and analysis from outside agencies such as the Productivity Commission or ACCC


Thirdly, the FWC makes a determination and, if a pay increase is recommended, the key stakeholders involved, particularly in sectors with high levels of Government funding, need to come together to work out how to pay for it before it and when to apply it. 


That being said, with the aged care wage decision now finalised the ECEC sector has, for the first time, a very clear road map for motivated parties, such as Unions, to pursue in the interest of their members and the educator community at large. 


With ECEC wages still markedly undervaluing the sector’s contribution and worth the case for an application is stronger than ever. It may just take some time for the various steps along the way to be fulfilled. 


More information on the aged care wage rise can be found here

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