Unlike many aged care staff, Mr Cameron said, these workers were likely to meet the Fair Work Commission’s criteria of regular and ongoing employment, and thus qualify for paid pandemic leave, as there was “no shortage of work” for them amid the Melbourne outbreak.
“Many of these agencies are quite small,” he said, warning that those without capacity to absorb the cost of pandemic leave would go “belly-up”.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has asked the commission to delay the pandemic leave requirement, arguing more time is needed to negotiate with governments over funding. The peak employer body also wants eligibility rules tightened to remove access for workers who acquire the coronavirus in the community rather than at work, and ensure only those who have come into contact with a confirmed, rather than suspected case, qualify.
A spokesman for Senator Colbeck said the federal government was still weighing up the implications of the Fair Work Commission ruling.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on Tuesday blasted the Victorian hospital system for turning away COVID-19 patients from residential aged care, saying the behaviour was “unacceptable” and state health authorities must ensure “every resident who does need hospitalisation is given it”.
“Where there are patients that need that support, they must be given it,” Mr Hunt said. “There can be no excuses. The beds are available.”
The number of active cases in Victoria’s aged care system, including residents and staff, hit 769 on Tuesday. Six more deaths from COVID-19 were reported, four of which were linked to aged care facilities.
Mr Hunt said the federal government was set to deploy Australian Medical Assistance Teams to Victoria to assist in the aged care sector, alongside interstate nurses.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said at the Commonwealth’s request, the state government was closing beds at the Eastern Health and the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital to redeploy staff, including registered nurses, to “take over the clinical care” of residents at aged care facilities experiencing outbreaks.
Leading Age Services Australia manager of policy and advocacy Tim Hicks said while it supported pandemic leave for workers at risk of COVID-19, “many aged care workers will not be able to access the scheme … without additional government support”.
“There is no way the funding so far announced can cover the cost of pandemic leave,” Mr Hicks said. “It is crucial that no staff or providers are disadvantaged during these challenging and deadly times.”
The federal government is yet to deliver on its promised aged care workforce support package, announced on July 19, to help providers restrict employees to working at a single facility and stop the movement between locations that has been blamed for the quick spread of the virus through the sector.
With Nick Bonyhady
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.