Support workers "can’t stop smiling": Budget funds properly paid breaks & travel time
21 May 2021
With funding confirmed in Budget 2021, home and community support workers will soon be paid their normal hourly rate while driving from one client to another.
Until now, this essential health workforce was only paid the minimum wage for ‘in between travel time’. Before 2015 they didn’t get a cent. Now there’s $81.822 million locked in to fund fair, consistently paid travel-for-work over the next four years.
Two unions represent support workers, the Public Service Association and E tū. Members of both organisations are celebrating the news, but they’re also reflecting on the long-haul campaign it took.
E tū delegate and support worker Tarsh Dixon has been on the frontlines campaigning for better conditions in the sector, along with more sick leave for all workers.
Tarsh says she initially didn’t believe the news was real.
"I reckon when our pay finally goes up, it will click. At the moment, members are just so stunned we finally got there," she says.
"It’s amazing. It feels like real progress and that we’re being listened to."
Tarsh says having 10 days sick leave is also "amazing news". She’s a solo mum, and her job has been threatened when she took time off to care for her daughters when they were ill. There was no one else.
She's getting ready for the next battle; securing more guaranteed hours so she doesn't have to "desperately ask around for clients" to survive.
Tarsh believes union activism has won progress for home support workers: "Working collectively with a vision is the reason we’ve got this far."
Her sentiments are echoed by PSA delegate and support worker Jenny Goodman, who has spent years active in her union’s campaign to get consistent pay for all hours worked.
"I’m ecstatic. I can’t stop smiling, it’s long overdue justice," says PSA delegate and support worker Jenny Goodman.
"If I worked in an office and the boss told me to deliver a parcel across town, then told me as I walked out the door my pay was dropping to minimum wage on the road, I wouldn't agree to do it."
Jenny never gave up hope, but it hasn’t been easy. She feels support workers have "soldiered on", despite unjust treatment, in part because they are so dedicated to the clients they care for.
"We were told the funding isn’t there, if you want paid breaks you have to take it out of a client’s time," she says.
"That puts you in the moral dilemma of deciding which elderly, vulnerable client you take support away from. It’s not a choice we’re prepared to make, so all too often we just didn’t get breaks."
E tū health director Kirsty McCully says the increase to in-between travel rates and sick leave is a double win, and the government’s allocation of $8 million to fund an Aged Care Commissioner will support system-wide reforms.
"For so long, our members have fought for vital improvements to their working conditions," she says.
"Now it feels like they are finally being recognised and appreciated."
PSA Assistant National Secretary Melissa Woolley congratulates union members for remaining determined through thick and thin.
"This is a great start which fixes some issues for workers. However, the government still urgently needs to implement a shift model with guaranteed hours to provide secure work and secure pay," she says.
"Support workers essentially have slightly prettier versions of zero hour contracts. This must change."