Aged care is a critical public policy issue in Australia. The growing significance of the sector raises important and pressing questions about many aspects of care itself, the size of the labour force and employment relations. Answering these questions is vital, with demand for labour in the sector already outstripping supply and with demand certain to grow substantially. The implications of this labour shortfall for the sector have already been the subject of a number of key government reports. Although these reports have begun to construct a more detailed picture of the issues facing aged care workers and employers, significant gaps remain, most notably any explicit examination of approaches to the management of labour or the importance of labour law in determining these approaches.
Despite the obvious importance and critical social and economic significance of the ageing population, we do not sufficiently understand many of the critical labour market features, workplace characteristics or management strategies which are evident in the aged care sector. This study seeks to build knowledge of employment and labour management in this growing and crucial sector at a decisive moment in history. It deepens our understanding of these issues and processes through a study of three residential aged care providers in New South Wales during the period from 2005 to 2009. The thesis specifically examines employer strategy in relation to the management of labour in the three cases. Further, it investigates the impact of the regulatory environment on these approaches. In doing so, the case studies reveal the intricate web of internal and external, direct and indirect, formal and informal regulation which shapes the management of labour within the sector.
The complexity of the regulatory web in aged care demands the use of an explanatory framework which recognises that labour-management approaches are influenced by constraints not traditionally associated with the direct, legal regulation of employment relations. Consequently, regulation theory is applied here as an organising framework and as an interpretive prism for the research. This allows for an explicit acknowledgment of the importance of non-legal, informal and indirect regulation ‘at work’ in this sector.
The study finds that in the period under review labour law was not the primary determinant of labour-management approaches in aged care. The case studies presented here show that it was, in fact, a second order consideration for aged care providers struggling with what they saw as insufficient funding, onerous ‘paperwork’ and staff recruitment and retention difficulties – in short a range of other regulatory influences. This study also shows that, despite the constraints imposed by these other regulatory modes, employers remained free to exercise their prerogative within the workplace; this, in turn, is revealed as a form of internal regulation in aged care.