Associate Professor Katherine Ravenswood (Management) recently appeared as an expert witness on the aged-care workforce and employment relations for the Australian Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. As her research has shown, there are enough similarities between Australia and New Zealand to compare employment conditions and discuss how they can be improved across both countries.
New Zealand, with its recent changes in aged care, is of particular interest to the Commission as it seeks to learn how to use regulation and funding models to improve work conditions across the Tasman. Recent legal changes here include increasing hourly wages for aged-care workers and paying for the travel time between clients in community care.
Associate Professor Ravenswood advised that although recent changes had undoubtedly been successful in raising wages for many workers, the way in which those changes were implemented had lessened some of the positive impact.
She said quality of care for older clients is inextricably linked to the work conditions of aged care workers, and that both needed to be prioritised in order to ensure good quality care. Ideally, to reflect this and recognise the value of aged-care work, funding models and service agreements need to specify better work conditions and wages as part of their terms. These could be supported in accreditation requirements and audits. Currently, there is little clarity in our regulations on the staffing levels, wage requirements and work conditions considered necessary to provide high quality of care and ensure that aged-care workers can work safely.
Associate Professor Ravenswood concluded that ultimately, as the funder of these services – which are outsourced to private providers by district health boards (DHBs) – the government is responsible for the employment and work conditions of those who work in aged care.