The increase in the cost of living weaves into so many conversations these days. The continued climb in housing costs and the recent rise of petrol prices have cut deep into people’s pockets. The impact of these increases cannot be underestimated when we look at low-income workers in the community sector.
Woden Community Service (WCS) employs aged care, disability and childcare workers. Each of these groups are notoriously and historically underpaid despite persistent lobbying from the relevant sectors.
Government invests in training programs, workforce development plans and the like in an attempt to attract and retain these workers. While this helps to some extent, the simple fact is these workers need to be paid more to stay above the poverty line.
Take the childcare sector – years ago we were able to attract workers from the surrounding regional areas of Canberra. Young men and women in particular would leave their country town of origin and come to Canberra to start a career in childcare.
Sadly, this source of workers is drying up – in short, they cannot afford to live in Canberra. The cost of rental accommodation has outpriced them. This has come when the workforce shortages in childcare are at their all-time worst.
Similarly, the aged care and disability sectors suffer from similar problems. People who have had the luxury of working from home have prided themselves on saving petrol. This is not an option for front-line workers obliged to drive often long distances to care for others.
The Federal Budget has attempted to address the cost of living issue. Unfortunately, many of the measures are short-term and will not address the longer-term financial situation of these workers.
Additional subsidised traineeships are an excellent way of supporting employers to get people into these industries, but it doesn’t solve the cost of living challenge once they’re employed.
So, what is the answer? This is a sole responsibility of governments to fund higher salaries. We cannot continue to pass on higher wage costs to the provider or to the consumer by raising consumer fees.
The aged care sector has been crying out for wage increases – an issue highlighted by the Royal Commission. Across all sectors wage increases cannot be carried by providers who often struggle to remain financially viable.
These workers are doing some of the most difficult work in our community – they are caring for our most vulnerable and need to be paid properly to do it.
Until this happens through additional government funding, we will continue to see chronic workforce shortages, high use of casual agency staff and an inability to provide the quality of care vulnerable children and adults deserve.
Jenny Kitchin is the CEO of Woden Community Service. Learn more about Woden Community Service and its work in the community.