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Aged care workers in some of Australia’s largest aged care providers have voted in favour of going on strike amid widespread anger about the treatment of workers and aged care residents.

Thousands of aged care workers have warned their employer to address understaffing that leaves aged care residents distressed and frustrated, or employers will face imminent strike action.

“Aged care workers are being forced to take unprecedented strike action because of pay and conditions that are failing workers and failing residents,” United Workers Union Aged Care Director, Carolyn Smith, said today.

United Workers Union members at BlueCare, Queensland’s largest aged care provider and Southern Cross Care in SA, South Australia’s largest residential aged care provider, have voted in favour of strike action.

They join aged care workers in three other major aged care facilities – Anglicare in SA, Hall & Prior in WA and Churches of Christ in Queensland – who have voted to take industrial action to address the aged care crisis.

The providers have more than 7,000 aged care workers and care for about 7,000 aged care residents.

The strike action will represent the first time aged care workers have taken national strike action in protest at their employer’s failure to address low rates of pay and inability to provide adequate staffing levels.

“Aged care workers are beside themselves with fatigue and they are emotionally exhausted by the distressed residents they see every single day,” Ms Smith said.

“Aged care workers know the Federal Government has failed them in the vaccination rollout, failed them with PPE and failed them in the Omicron outbreak when 900 aged care residents died, so they are holding their employers accountable.

“Across these major providers residents are being left without basic needs being met, they are left soiled for extended periods and they are at risk of falls when left unattended.

“In addition aged care workers face pay levels so low they can barely afford the petrol to get to work and outrageously heavy workloads mean a majority of aged care workers are thinking about resigning for good.”

The industrial action endorsed by aged care workers at the five major aged care providers allows indefinite stoppages and other forms of industrial action.

A vote is being conducted at three other major aged care providers, Aegis and Regis in WA and Bolton Clarke (formerly Allity) in South Australia.

If union members vote in favour of protected action, providers with more than 12,000 staff and about the same number of residents will be the subject of strike action.

“Details of what kind of action aged care workers wish to take will be worked out in coming days – but no employer should underestimate the level of anger after years of neglect of aged care workers and their residents,” Ms Smith said.

In any strike the union will work with providers about arrangements for the safety and wellbeing of residents, on top of the union’s legal obligations to give providers several days notice about any actions that may be taken.