Aged care workers still without Christmas penalties after cyberattack

Thousands of Queensland aged care workers are yet to be paid Christmas penalties, while a union says one employee given a hardship payment was forced to repay it in the next pay cycle.

“They’re working through the pandemic. They’ve had the vaccine rollout,” says United Workers Union national aged care director Carolyn Smith.

“They’ve worked wrapped up in plastic and with masks and face shields for quite a number of months.

“This is just something that should be fixed easily and made a priority, and it just seems Blue Care is not making it a priority.”

United Workers Union has been in negotiation with Blue Care, which employs about 5500 aged care workers across Queensland, regarding their pay.

Blue Care, as part of UnitingCare, suffered a system outage after a cyberattack in December, limiting access to HR services and payment systems.

Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck has come under fire for comments about the climbing COVID-19 death toll in nursing homes.

UnitingCare’s operational systems, including internal staff email and patient operation booking, were affected, while IT systems at two Brisbane hospitals and several aged care facilities were crippled.

In a letter to staff this month, UnitingCare chief executive Craig Barke said a payroll analysis by KPMG would determine whether workers had been underpaid or overpaid during the outage, and that was expected to occur by the end of April.

Three pay periods were affected by the outage but Mr Barke said all hours worked were recorded.

Ms Smith said more should have been done to help workers over the Christmas and New Year’s period, and Blue Care should have considered hardship payments for staff.

The union said it was aware of at least one employee in Brisbane who had fought for a hardship-type payment and was awarded it, but then had to repay it in the next pay cycle.

“It’s just another thing for aged care workers. They’re just beside themselves now,” Ms Smith said.

Federal government figures show at least 16 Blue Care aged care facilities have been hit by COVID-19 outbreaks, and hundreds of residents and staff contracted the virus.

A Blue Care spokeswoman said the cyberattack left the system inaccessible for six weeks.

“Blue Care immediately implemented systems to ensure our people would continue to be paid. While these systems enabled us to pay all our employees on time, there have been discrepancies where some people did not receive their accurate pay,” she said.

“The system has been restored, and we are reconciling all impacted pay periods, and are committed to doing this swiftly and accurately.

“In cases of extreme hardship and loss, we have communicated to our people they should escalate their situation via their leader to their general manager, who will in turn work with payroll for urgent resolution.

“It is categorically untrue that an employee would be requested to repay a hardship payment without permission.”

The spokeswoman did not answer whether the April timeframe was still likely but said it was a complex process, adding “our priority is addressing it as quickly as possible, whilst ensuring an accurate outcome for our people”.

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