A government plan to gift aged care workers two lots of $400 cash bonuses has been criticised as a "sugar hit" that does little to improve the sector.
As aged care staff struggle to deal with rising cases of COVID-19 linked to the Omicron variant in residential facilities, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese accused the government of neglecting staff.
Mr Albanese said he supported making a case to the Fair Work Commission to increase the rates of pay for aged care staff.
"The problem here is this (bonus) is a cash payment in the lead up to an election with no sustainable increase in their pay," Mr Albanese told reporters.
"Why is the government not providing support for aged care workers on a permanent basis?"
In an address to the National Press Club on Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the onus was on Mr Albanese to explain how such a permanent pay increase would be funded.
He said the $400 payments had been used previously for the aged care sector and were brought back because they were effective.
"We've already done this once before, and we know it works," Mr Morrison said.
"With the workforce challenges we've had, particularly over Omicron, that's why this has come about, not for any other reason as suggested."
Workers in the sector have criticised the government for a failure to provide adequate numbers of protective equipment and rapid antigen tests, while dealing with staff shortages due to rising virus cases.
Since the arrival of the Omicron variant in Australia, there have been more than 560 deaths in aged care.
Mr Morrison said more than 60 per cent of aged care deaths had been those in palliative care or end-of life care.
The prime minister acknowledged lessons had been learnt from COVID-19 deaths in aged care following the start of the pandemic.
"These are not simple issues with simple solutions," he said.
"Ninety-nine per cent of aged care facilities have been ... visited to offer those booster shots (and) we have not mandated the taking of boosters by aged care residents."
Despite the timing of the aged care worker payments, the government has insisted they were not pre-election sweeteners for the sector
Chief executive of Leading Aged Services Australia Sean Rooney said the federal government had a role to play for worker pay rates to help avoid a staff exodus.
"The government funds around 80 per cent of the aged care system with the remaining 20 per cent from contributions," he told Sky News.
"With 70 per cent of costs in aged care homes relating to wages, we need a commitment from the federal government."
The amount paid to aged care workers would depend on the hours worked by the employee.
Labor government services spokesman Bill Shorten says the government needs to increase the base wage of aged care staff.
"Increase the base rate and the sugar hit wouldn't be necessary. The base rate is what has to go up otherwise we are going to struggle to attract people to the industry," he told the Nine Network.
It comes as Australia registered another 77 deaths from the pandemic on Tuesday, with 34 of those from Victoria, 30 in NSW while there were 10 and three fatalities in Queensland and South Australia respectively.
Case numbers nationally remained stable, with more than 35,000 registered.
NSW had the highest total with 12,818 infections, followed by Victoria with 11,311, Queensland with 7588 and South Australia with 1266, while there were 522 in the ACT, 699 in Tasmania, 970 in the NT and 24 in WA.
Australian Associated Press
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