Politics Analysis

Aged care labor migration pathway full of 'risks'

By | | comments |
Aged Care Minister Anika Wells (image via YouTube)

More aged care workers are required, but there are questions over the new Aged Care Labour Agreement, writes Dr Abul Rizvi

THE RECENTLY announced Aged Care Labour Agreement responds to Australia’s massive shortage of aged and disability care workers and the enormous problems in the aged care industry identified by the 'Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety' . As Australia’s population ages, this shortage will grow without an appropriate response.

There can be no argument that an Aged Care Labour Agreement is needed. The occupations covered by the agreement are:

  • Nursing support workers;
  • Personal care assistants; 
  • Aged or disabled carers.

All of these occupations are currently in massive shortage despite the recent increase in wages for many of these workers funded in the recent Budget. Despite objections from some aged care employers, that increase was desperately needed.

Establishing an Australia-wide labour agreement for a semi-skilled occupation, however, is high risk and needs those risks to be carefully managed. The close involvement of relevant unions in the new agreement is a very positive step. It should reduce the risk of worker exploitation. But will that be enough to manage the full range of risks?

The key to the Aged Care Labour Agreement is the following concessions from the standard skilled temporary entry visa:

  • Two-year pathway to permanent residence through the Employer Nomination Scheme, the standard requirement is three years;
  • Streamlined visa nomination and priority visa application processing;
  • No post-qualification work experience requirement, the standard is for a minimum of two years skilled work experience in the relevant or related occupation;
  • English language concessions for workers with relevant community language skills;
  • Annual salary of at least $51,222 or the Australian Market Salary Rate, whichever is higher, this salary level may reflect the recent increase but is still a key concession from the new standard requirement for skilled temporary visas from 1 July 2023 of $70,000.

The skills assessing body nominated for aged care workers under this labour agreement is the Australian Care Workers Association (ACWA). Its website says the Association is updating its guidelines and procedures so no details are currently available on how it will assess aged and disability care workers. Some private VET providers offer a six-week course leading to award of a Certificate III in aged or disability care. Will that be sufficient to meet ACWA requirements?

A question that many of the 580,000 overseas students in Australia, the 180,000 temporary graduates, possibly over 50,000 former students on a covid visa and over 160,000 working holiday maker visa holders will ask is:

Why don’t I do a cheap six-week course in aged care that will give me permanent residence in Australia in two years rather than slogging it out in university for three or four years. Then I wold have a number of years on a temporary graduate visa trying to get sufficient skilled work experience to secure a temporary skilled visa that may enable sponsorship for permanent residence after another three years?

After two years on a skilled temporary visa, the new permanent residents can work wherever they like with many likely to quickly leave the aged care industry given the low pay and difficult work.

This will worry Australia’s universities which rely so heavily on overseas student fee income. The risk of losing a significant number of students to private VET providers that offer short courses in aged care is substantial. This is especially the case now that higher education students can switch providers in just six months after starting their initial course rather than 12 months.

Many private VET providers will try to switch to offering the same six-week courses even if they have no expertise in the area. The key will be whether the quality regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), will licence them to do so.

An important question for ASQA and the Government is whether it needs to upgrade training standards in this area to reflect the recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission which emphasised the importance of highly trained aged care staff.

Education and migration agents will respond by encouraging overseas students and others to undertake aged care courses with the promise that permanent residence is assured.

If there is a surge in private VET providers offering aged care courses to overseas students and a major increase in overseas students who have done these courses, there may eventually be a blockage at the employer sponsorship stage if aged care providers receive too many applications for their current massive shortages. That may not be worrying the government at this time but it does not take long for a shortage to become an over-supply.

At that stage, there will be a large number of angry overseas students who have done aged care courses only to find there is no longer a shortage in aged care.

Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.

Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.

Recent articles by Abul Rizvi
Net migration set to hit record high levels in 2023

The Government must plan effectively and carry out immigration compliance activi ...  
ABS data spurs media into 'recession' panic

Estimated GDP data released by the Bureau of Statistics has resulted in the main ...  
How I decided to vote in the upcoming Voice Referendum

Before voting in the upcoming Referendum, it's vital to be educated on arguments ...  
Join the conversation
comments powered by Disqus

Support IAIndependent Australia

Subscribe to IA and investigate Australia today.

Close Subscribe Donate