“Like the Titanic”: unions slam aged care staffing cuts during COVID-19 – Commissioner Briggs “shocked and deeply disturbed” by evidence

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Unions have warned the Commission of the ongoing fallout from the impact of COVID-19 on the aged care workforce, with hundreds of workers infected, widespread staffing cuts and some staff excluded from paid pandemic leave.

Over 80 minutes, a panel of union representatives: Annie Butler (pictured), the Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation (ANMF); Diana Asmar, the Secretary of the Health Workers Union (HWU); and Carolyn Smith, the WA State Secretary of the United Workers Union (UWU), pointed to a range of issues including a lack of communication, training in PPE, staffing, and mental health support – along with the threat of the virus.

The Victorian-based Ms Asmar said “Unfortunately, our members right now feel like they’re on the bottom of the Titanic ship.”

Aa survey by Ms Smith’s union of 1,000 aged care workers showed 75% of respondents working in residential care reported having not enough staff during the pandemic and 90% didn’t have the time to complete daily tasks.

The Counsel Assisting also brought up the ANMF’s survey from April-May which found three-quarters of respondents said their employer had not increased staffing during the pandemic.

Ms Butler – who has 40,000 members working in aged care, 50% Registered Nurses and Enrolled Nurses and the other 50% personal care workers – says she is seeing providers cutting staff across a number of states during the pandemic, particularly during the last couple of months.

Commissioner Briggs “deeply disturbed” by evidence

Commissioner Lynelle Briggs said she was “shocked and deeply disturbed” by the evidence, singling out the high numbers in infected care workers lack of training and PPE and poor communication.

“If you were in our shoes, thinking about what needs to change immediately, I would like to ask you, Ms Asmar and you, Ms Smith, for some counsel and guidance to governments in Victoria in particular but across other States,” she asked.

Ms Asmar recommended mandated staff ratios, more part-time and full-time roles for aged care staff and no limits on PPE.

“Today there is a … two masks per shift and that is an appalling guideline,” she said.

“Oh God,” Commissioner Briggs said, sound horrified.