Aged care in this country was in crisis long before COVID put extra pressure on services. The royal commission's interim report last October made it clear that there were symptomatic failures in the sector. This is not what we as a community should accept for our seniors. They deserve dignity, respect and support. Recently, I met with representatives of the Health Services Union—dedicated aged-care kitchen staff, cleaners and cooks. They told me about personal sacrifices they've been making during the crisis. For nine months they've isolated from friends and family so they could provide care for their residents and not unknowingly introduce COVID-19 into their facilities—all this for minimum hours or four-hour contracts, often for no more than $21.97 per hour and no paid overtime. They're also not afforded sick leave or paid leave when they need to take a COVID test. While many have lost hours and jobs because they can't work in more than one facility, they're not eligible for JobKeeper. They also weren't eligible for the aged-care retention bonus.
The overwhelming thing that came out in my conversations with these workers was the care they have for their residents. They speak of the residents as their family. They are distressed because management cutting costs means they don't have enough time for a quick conversation to ease the loneliness of residents. I was told that during COVID and lockdown residents have become depressed and lonely because no-one could visit. Having the time to have a chat over morning tea would make such a difference in their lives, but these workers have been told that, if they don't finish their workload—their increased workload because of COVID—there is no paid overtime and if they don't do their jobs it's the patients who miss out again.
Day after day the evidence mounts of serious neglect in aged care, and all we see from the government is an avoidance of the acceptance of responsibility for the failures. The recession we are currently in is the deepest in almost a century, and I fear decisions by this government will continue to make it worse for the most vulnerable of our Australians.