Fair Work Commission (FWC) President Justice Iain Ross (pictured) has warned the Commission won’t take the Government’s ability to fund a wage rise for aged care workers into account when it delivers a decision on the unions’ bid to increase wages by 25%, indicating that whoever wins the 21 May Federal Election will have to foot the bill.
Justice Ross told the first day of hearings into the unions’ work value case in Sydney on Tuesday that the “affordability” of the pay rise to employers, who are dependent on Federal funding, was not relevant when it came to setting minimum rates that reflect employees’ work value.
However, he said that the availability of Government funding could influence when the pay rise comes into effect for the sector and how it should be phased in.
New aged care workers earn around $22 an hour, but the Health Services Union (HSU) is calling for this figure to be raised by $5.40 to $7.20 an hour or around $29 an hour.
Justice Ross told the parties that he was not “particularly persuaded that affordability would come into an argument about what the level of a particular increase might be”.
“It seems to me that fundamentally an evaluation of work value … is a statutory assessment,” he said.
He said the Commission would form a view on the proper rates based on the evidence. The tribunal would then direct parties to funding issues in deciding how the rates should be phased in, rather than whether funding should limit the pay rise to a certain level.
HSU National President Gerard Hayes, who was the first of more than 100 witnesses expected to be called in what will be a long-running case, said the aged care workforce was clearly under-resourced, underpaid and undervalued.
The hearing comes as aged care workers represented by the United Workers Union are expected to take unprecedented strike action later this week in support of higher pay.
The HSU is seeking a 25% pay rise for not only personal carers but also catering, cleaning and administrative staff.
Lawyer Nigel Ward, representing Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA) and Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), said a “uniform 25% increase is, respectfully, unsustainable”.
The hearing will continue until mid-May with parties to make further submissions in June.