3 Feb 2012
For the 150,000 largely female workforce in the social services and community sector across Australia, the FairWork Australia ruling means a rise in income of between $6324 and $24,346 per year.
However there is concern in the welfare workforce that although the decision recognises the proper remuneration for the great work carried out by those in the social and community sector and is long overdue there are warning signs.
Many are concerned that unless both state and federal governments commit to extra funding to meet the costs imposed by these wage increases, some of the vital services provided to society's most vulnerable would be put in jeopardy.
Without such commitments, some welfare providers say they will struggle to maintain services in the mid to longer term and may even struggle to survive.
Paul O'Callaghan, Executive Director of CSSA, the national body for 69 Catholic social service organisations says throughout the entire almost two year process when wage adjustments for the sector were under review by FairWork Australia, he and others in the field met constantly with senior federal government ministers and bureaucrats about the critical need for full funding supplementation to help agencies meet the costs of any wage increase.
Finally, late last year the Federal Government said it would contribute more than $2 billion to fund the large pay rises for community sector workers expected to be handed down by Fair Work Australia. But so far no details of how the promised $2 billion would be spread across the social services sector have been given, nor the sum been increased after the announcement that the expected pay increase of 20%, on which the Government figure is based, is higher with some workers receiving up to a 41% increase in earnings.
Details of where and how the Federal Government's promised $2 billion will be used, he believes is essential to enable individual agencies to work out the full impact of this week's ruling and the effect it will have on their bottom line.
Agencies also wish to know as soon as possible if part of the Commonwealth's $2 billion will not be handed to the agencies themselves but instead will become part of the Federal Government's social grants and paid directly to States and Territories.
But even more important, Mr O'Callaghan believes, is to discover what additional funding Territory and State governments are prepared to commit to supplement the increased wage costs to agencies.
Currently 45% of all funding for social service organisations such as CatholicCare and the St Vincent de Paul Society comes from State or Territory governments with the Federal Government contributing a further 25%, leaving around 30% to be raised by the agencies themselves.
To help agencies adjust, the implementation of the payrises will be made over a nine year period which Mr O'Callaghan says provides a viable pathway.
But Bernard Boerma at CatholicCare disagrees and while applauding the wage increase, admits he would like to see them implemented over a far shorter time period.
"There is no doubt the pay increase will make a real difference to workers and their families. However we were hoping for a shorter implementation phase to enable us to attract and retain staff in the sector," he says.
Of CatholicCare's staff of 850, just over 400 are community sector workers affected by the Fair Work Australia equal pay ruling.
Each year CatholicCare helps change the lives of more than 50,000 Australian men, women and children. The agency, founded 71 years ago, offers help and support across a wide range of locally-based intervention and prevention programs. The areas in which CatholicCare is involved range from aged care, counselling, housing, employment, disability services, child protection, family and parenting support, respite and out of home care. CatholicCare also provides support for drug, alcohol and other dependencies and offers care and support for people with Dementia and their families.