Aged care workers highlight need for urgent reform
New Zealand aged care workers are adding their voices to the global call to create a “shield against COVID-19” with better conditions for workers and residents in aged care homes around the world.
E tū members are participating in the Global Nursing Homes Day of Action on October 1, coordinated by UNI Global Union, representing around 20 million workers in unions worldwide.
The day of action calls for increased staffing, safer workplaces, and increased union representation.
Aged care worker and E tū delegate Gill Butcher says COVID-19 has simply been a catalyst to “shine a light” on issues in aged care that desperately need attention.
“Already before COVID-19, we were on the brink of catastrophe with short staffing levels. In one incident, we had a situation where there was a ratio of one caregiver to 22 residents,” she says.
“Ask yourself how a single caregiver, in a seven-and-a-half-hour shift could look after 22 people, which includes toileting and feeding, let alone have a chat and a cup of tea.”
Gill says now more than ever, worker and union voices need to be part of the conversation to improve conditions, particularly as COVID-19 has exacerbated existing issues, such as short staffing.
“At my care home, we didn’t have anyone walk in with COVID-19 but that was just a matter of luck, not due to good management or adequate staffing. Many facilities could have ended up like Rosewood.”
An E tū director, Kirsty McCully, says listening to workers and increasing the ratio of carers to residents, as well as making those guidelines mandatory, is a first step to improving the situation.
“We know from research, both in New Zealand and internationally, that short staffing issues, poor pay and lack of training all contribute to worse outcomes for residents and workers.
“It’s absolutely imperative that we acknowledge and respect the vital role that aged care workers – our essential workers – play in our families and communities.
“One way we can show that respect is by providing the proper conditions and, most importantly in New Zealand, mandatory safe staffing rules, which would ensure that our vulnerable loved ones are kept safe and are able to maintain a life of dignity.
“On this global day of action, we stand with aged care workers worldwide who have braved the frontlines of COVID-19, we celebrate workers’ efforts to keep residents safe, and we encourage all aged care workers to join together in their unions so we can continue to bring improvements to the sector.”
October 1 is also International Day of the Older Person.