Legal Fight Erupts Over Aussie Aged Care Workers

July 18, 2020 Updated: July 18, 2020

A legal fight is underway in Australia’s southern state of Victoria as the health union tries to stop a major aged care provider from limiting its workers to one facility.

The challenge comes as aged care continues to be a major factor in Victoria’s worrying coronavirus case numbers.

The Health Workers Union on July 17 lodged a legal challenge in the Federal Circuit Court to stop not-for-profit Mecwacare from sacking its employees if they work for a second employer.

The union claims Mecwacare, which operates 13 residential care homes across Victoria, sent a directive to its staff about a change to their contracts effectively preventing them from working for a second employer.

The measure is a COVID-19 safety measure but the union opposes it, saying the extra hours at a second aged care facility could be “the difference between having money for groceries or paying their rent”.

“When we have aged care workers earning $22 or $23 an hour, we shouldn’t be increasing their economic hardship,” union secretary Diana Asmar told AAP.

“It’s a disgrace how we treat aged care workers in this country.

“They are heroes on the frontline in the fight against COVID-19,” she said.

The union told AAP several other aged care providers had tried preventing their casual staff from working for multiple employers but had backed off after the union challenged them.

Asmar said the HWU was happy to work with other major aged care providers and the Victorian government to work out a solution in the best interests of virus measures and employees.

She said infections in aged care were skyrocketing because of a lack of personal protective equipment.

“The release of PPE into our aged care residential homes has been way too slow,” Asmar said. “This PPE should have been supplied to aged care facilities weeks ago, not sitting in warehouses.

“We are still being told ‘it’s coming,'” she said.

More than 80 cases have been detected in Victoria’s aged care homes with numbers worsening by the day.

An outbreak of 38 cases at Menarock Life Aged Care in Melbourne has prompted authorities to move all remaining residents into a private hospital for their protection.

Two residents at the facility have died from the virus, including one of the latest three Victorian fatalities on July 17.

Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians Richard Colbeck confirmed on July 17 residents would be transferred out of the Essendon facility.

“We believe this is a necessary step to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of the residents,” Colbeck said.

Twenty residents from Menarock have already been transferred to Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Transferred residents will receive follow-up testing and be closely monitored for any signs and symptoms to ensure appropriate and timely clinical treatment can be provided.

Victoria recorded three more deaths and 428 new coronavirus cases on Friday as hospitals brace for an influx of patients.

Aged care homes have had a rapid increase in infections during the second outbreak, with new cases recorded at care homes in Brighton, Plenty, Greensborough, Werribee, and Sunshine.

Christine McGinn and Andi Yu