CANBERRA, AAP – Less than half of aged care workers eligible for federal government bonuses have not yet received their first payment under the scheme.
A Senate estimates hearing was told on Wednesday about 265,000 aged care workers would be eligible to receive a $400 bonus, with a second bonus of the same amount due in May.
However, officials told estimates the bonuses have flowed through to roughly 95,000 of the eligible workers.
The bonuses were announced by the government in February as a retention measure for workers in the sector, and would be available to those who work more than 30 hours per week.
Health officials said the department had received applications for the bonuses from 945 aged care providers as of April 4.
Of those, 499 have been approved, with an estimated $55 million in bonuses being issued to those providers to be shared among eligible staff.
Senators were told the number of providers approved for the grants was likely to rise to 699 by the end of the week, which would take in 133,000 workers.
While the money for the bonuses will be supplied by the government, aged care providers are responsible for distributing the funds to staff.
The bonuses were announced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with many staff dealing with outbreaks.
However, some have labelled the move as a pre-election sweetener for aged care staff, with the second payment due to be paid in May, the same month the election is due.
Australians will head to the polls on either May 14 or May 21, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison set to call the election in a matter of days.
Aged care is set to be one of the key issues in the election, with Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese using his budget reply speech to pledge a $2.5 billion package for the sector.
The reform would require aged care facilities to have a registered nurse on site 24 hours a day, with residents required to receive a minimum of 215 minutes of care per day.
Labor also pledged to support the outcome of a case before the Fair Work Commission to increase wages for aged care staff.
Unions have called for a 25 per cent pay increase.
Families Minister Anne Ruston told estimates the government would wait for the commission to hand down its decision on the wage increase before committing to a potential wage rise.
“We are not in the habit of overriding independent authorities when they set up this work,” she said.
“We’d have to wait to see what the decision of the Fair Work Commission is in relation to the wage increase.”