Aged care nurses in Australia are seeking parity with nurses in other sectors in pay and other working conditions.
The campaign, Because We Care, launched by the Australian Nursing Federation is calling for fair pay for aged-care nurses and care staff and right balance of skills and nursing hours to provide quality care for each resident.
It also wants a guarantee that taxpayer funding is used to improve wages for staff and the care of patients.
The federation says that while the Federal Government funds nursing homes, it does not require their owners to show how much is spent on direct care, including nurses' wages.
The Federation's national secretary Ged Kearney said the previous Coalition government had put $1.2billion into aged care to ensure wages remained competitive but that had still not translated into fair pay for aged-care nurses and care staff, who received up to $300 a week less than their counterparts in other sectors.
''We want some accountability for this Federal Government funding that goes into the sector. There's very little feedback or transparency about where the funding goes or how its spent,'' she said. ''It could be spent on infrastructure, it could be spend on capital costs, it could be on profit, it could be on a number of things, we don't know. All we know is that it's not going on nursing care and its not going to wages. We would like to see something that ensures that it does.''
However, Aged Care Association Australia chief executive officer Rod Young said wages as a proportion of income in high-care nursing homes had stayed between about 60 and 65 per cent in the decade to 2007, regardless of government funding.
''I can assure you if we get additional dollars, the first thing we do is plough it into salaries and wages so we can attract, particularly, registered nurses,'' he said.
Ms Kearney knew calling for higher wages would be difficult in the current economic climate.
''But we implore the Government not to let this jeopardise the care we deliver to older Australians.
''An investment in aged care now is an investment in quite possibly the biggest single issue facing the health system, which is already stretched to the limit.''
One of the faces of the campaign, Brisbane nursing assistant Alba Vignolo, said older people deserved the best of care but staff felt they could not do their job properly.
''You're running the whole time because there just isn't enough time to do everything that you'd like to do,'' she said.
The chairwoman of the Community Affairs Committee, Queensland Labor senator Claire Moore, hosted yesterday's launch to show her support for the nurses' campaign.
Federal Ageing Minister Justine Elliot says it is a ''major concern'' that aged-care nurses are being paid up to $300 less a week than their counterparts in other sectors, but won't commit to tying any future funding to improving their wages and conditions.
Ms Elliot, who attended the launch at Parliament House of the Because We Care, said the Government was providing record funding for aged care of $41 billion over the next four years and suggested it was down to the aged-care providers and nurses to negotiate a fair deal.
''I acknowledge it is a major concern, that's why I'm encouraging employers to work with their employees to pay them better wages and make sure they've got better conditions, given the fact do we give them record amounts of funding,'' she said.