A network of aged-care providers wants the power to band together to hire Pacific Island nationals to fill gaping staff shortages in parts of Australia as the government looks to regional neighbours to bolster demand across the sector.
Catholic Health Australia wants aged-care homes to be able to use industry-wide sponsorship to boost labour from countries such as Samoa, Vanuatu and Tonga to plug the nation’s workforce shortage, arguing migrants’ ability to switch employers would decrease overheads and exploitation.
The federal government last year broadened the scope of the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme – which mostly fills agricultural jobs – to help fill the yawning vacancies in the aged-care workforce.
But CHA aged-care director Jason Kara, who oversees 12 per cent of the nation’s facilities, said the scheme wasn’t sufficient to address the staff shortages crippling homes, adding “improving the PALM scheme is one of several reforms needed to make sure aged care facilities have enough staff”.
“In under a year, all operators will be required to give 200 minutes of care a day per resident, of which 40 must be by a registered nurse. Unless there is drastic action, on the current trajectory many aged care operators just won’t have the staff they need,” Kara said.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s September jobs summit resulted in the government agreeing to look at industries sponsoring overseas workers to fill skills shortages – in contrast to individual employers recruiting internationally – and it is now a focus of the government’s migration review.
“Industry-wide visa sponsorship … would help reduce the shortage by coordinating recruitment, training and onboarding, reducing overheads and other barriers for providers and applicants,” Kara said.
The provider network also believes industry sponsorship would help dispel some of the negative aspects of the PALM scheme, such as the potential for exploitation that arises when workers are tied to an individual employer under their visa conditions.