Who cares for our carers?

Nurse, doctor, teacher, lawyer: professions many of us and, no doubt, our parents would have typically cited as the things ‘to be’ as a grown-up.  But aged care worker? For many immigrant and refugee families, caring for the elderly isn’t something you aspire to be let alone be paid for.

If you’re from a migrant background (and especially if you’re also a woman), caring for an elderly family member is part of family life, it’s something you just do. What must it be like then, for the many overseas born workers (34% in 2012) who make up Australia’s aged care workforce? Does the cultural imperative of caring for the aged necessarily make the job easier for them? These were some of the questions arising from research MCWH recently conducted in partnership with the University of Adelaide’s WISeR research centre and Southern Cross Care Victoria (SCCV) into supporting the professional development needs of SCCV’s culturally diverse workforce.

We’ve mentioned before that caring isn’t any easier just because you’re paid to do it and our research certainly confirmed this. The majority of migrant aged care workers who participated in the research cited workload pressures and lack of teamwork and miscommunication as the things that made their jobs more difficult. Not surprisingly, the factors that made work easier were not only the exact opposite of whatever made things difficult, but also individual factors such as enjoyment of their work, a positive disposition and good health. Over half of the workers interviewed cited the residents as the main reason for what they like most about their work: being appreciated and feeling that a difference is being made to the quality of their lives.

These findings suggest that despite the stereotypes, migrant women workers don’t possess an innate quality that makes them want to do aged care work or that they’re naturally skilled for it because of their ‘culture’. Rather the findings highlight the important role played by personal values in care work and how these come into play when they intersect with the work-day reality of many immigrant and refugee women.

The majority (74%) of the workers interviewed cited one or more systemic issues relating to gender, migration, settlement and employment, which led them to pursue a job in the aged care sector because of their limited employment opportunities. This reason alone points to the need for immigrant and refugee women to be supported in all aspects of their professional development so that their jobs aren’t seen as an opportunity born solely of luck, but as a profession and an opportunity for advancement.

For further information about the research project, please contact Dr Regina Quiazon, Senior Research and Policy Advocate, email regina@mcwh.com.au or call 03 9418 0912

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