The COVID-19 pandemic put care for the aged on the political agenda across the Global North, exposing the dismal conditions both staff and residents have endured for years across much of the sector. From France to Canada, unions who have long warned about the industry have found a renewed voice, with parties from across the political spectrum vying to reform the system – or increase spending at the very least.

CICTAR has followed these developments closely, with our reports helping to inform a number of union campaigns, including in the United Kingdom, and France and attracting significant media attention across Western Europe and North America. Indeed, our research has been used as the basis for international cooperation between the European Federation of Public Service Unions and Canadian Union of Public Employees, exposing the government-controlled Canadian pension funds which have become among the world’s largest owners of for-profit care companies.

Yet the Aged Care system in Australia has perhaps received most of our attention, predating the start of the pandemic, with three landmark reports exposing the failings of the private, non-profit and religious sectors, and the release of a more recent report coinciding with the start of the country’s federal election campaign.

With that election now in full swing, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) has made Aged Care central to their political platform, in an announcement that came one week after the release of our most report. This includes a five-point plan for improving Aged Care, with AUD$2.5 billion pledged to improve services, including wage increases, mandated staffing levels, and transparency and accountability measures on public funding.

CICTAR welcomes these developments as a step forward, although as principal analyst Jason Ward has warned, “currently there’s hundreds of millions of dollars going into the system that are not accounted for.” Transparency over funding in the sector remains a major issue, which needs to be dealt with as part of any reform, as CICTAR’s reports have made very clear.

Knowing that an ALP government will have to be pushed to go further in order to truly reform the sector, we welcome the announcement that the United Workers Union (UWU) will take strike action in centres run by some of Australia’s largest Aged Care providers. This unprecedented action is a sign of the anger of those working in the sector, whose power is essential to ensuring the improvement of conditions.

As a study from the United States has now shown, unionisation in Aged Care is “associated with 10.8 percent lower resident COVID-19 mortality rates, as well as 6.8 percent lower worker COVID-19 infection rates.”

Care for aging and vulnerable citizens is a mark of civilization in any society. Treating such care as an opportunity to make money cannot be tolerated and CICTAR is proud to have been part of a shift in attitude in Australian politics. We believe that our work in Australia creates a pathway to be followed in other countries where we are working with our partners to expose the same systemic flaws.