Agency Nursing Rates: Does Your Agency Pay Enough?

If you have ever wondered about the best agency nursing rates, how they compare, or simply whether your agency is paying enough, then hopefully this article will help, as these are the questions we’ll be tackling. We’ll also cover a new, more efficient way to finding temporary and permanent nursing work in Australia. 

So, let's look at nurse salaries in Australia and the standard starting income for a newly-qualified registered nurse. As an example, we know that in the New South Wales public healthcare sector, a newly qualified registered nurse makes on average around $62,400 per annum. Now for an experienced registered nurse, we know that they will generally earn on average $87,620 per annum. Junior nurses salaries are well below the Australian average wage of $83,454, which is why so many Australian nurses are looking for ways to boost their income.

In Australia, casual labour hire employment and temporary work has been on the rise for the last 20 years and the number of permanent positions has fallen. While there are definitely benefits to working casually like freedom over when and where nurses work and higher pay rates, there are downsides which should be considered too, such as a lack of job security. 

One way nurses can boost their income is by signing up to work for a nursing agency, but how do agency nursing rates compare to working as a permanent staff member? Let's start with how nursing agencies work.

How Nursing Agencies Work

Agencies are private companies who recruit and employ a pool of nurses to distribute to short-staffed hospitals across the city, state or country to fill shift vacancies. When a hospital is short-staffed, the staffing unit phones a number of their preferred provider agencies, sometimes as many as 12, to supply them with available nurses. The agencies then call or text their nurses to confirm availability, and once confirmed, phone the staffing unit back to confirm the booking. The staffing unit then passes the name of this nurse back through the supply chain of managers or staffing meetings to the floor manager, who writes the name in the allocation book. 

If the team leader has worked with a nurse a few times already, allocating a fair patient load isn’t too challenging, and team leaders are more likely to rebook a nurse who performed well on shift. If they are not familiar with the nurse, they have to use what information they have to allocate a nurse, which often isn’t much, therefore nurses can end up being allocated patients that they don’t feel comfortable looking after. At the end of the day the agency is paid, regardless of which nurse they place, and there have been times that this hasn’t been in the best interest of the nurse or patient needs.

Agencies have also been known to cancel a nurse at one hospital and re-allocate them to a hospital paying a higher commission. One nurse we interviewed reflected on an occasion where they were cancelled from a hospital, and offered a shift at another hospital further away and where she preferred not to go to. Later when having a coffee with a colleague from the hospital that cancelled her, she learned that the hospital didn’t in fact cancel her, as they remained short staffed for that shift. “I felt like I was a pawn in a chess game, being moved around to suit the agency,” she exclaimed. Experiences by agency nurses such as these and many more lead them to question their worth as a professional healthcare service providers, and whether working through an agency is even worthwhile.

Next, let’s have a look at how nursing agencies charge hospitals. 


What is a Nursing Agency Commission?

This is the hourly rate that the nursing recruitment agency takes for placing a nurse in a position. The agency sets the rate they will pay their nurses at and charges an additional commission to hospitals for their revenue. Contracts between hospitals and agencies vary, which causes some bias over which agencies hospitals select as their preferred providers and which hospitals agencies prefer to send their nurses to. Different contracts between agencies and hospitals can also work against nurse if, for example it is contracted that the hospitals can send the nurse home after just 4 hours on shift. This results in financial disadvantage for the nurse, particularly if they have travelled a fair distance to get to the hospital to work the shift. 


Why You Should Know a Nursing Agency's Commission

If you’re working for a nursing recruitment agency it’s important to have a general idea of the nursing agency’s commission. Unfortunately rates of commission are confidential in contracts with each hospital, but is generally possible to tell which agencies charge hospitals high fees because they are the ones that offer perks and kickbacks to nurses including training, quick payments, an app, and rate top-ups.

Agencies that charge hospitals high fees are often contacted last to source nurses, and these nurses are cancelled first. Therefore, at the end of the day, these nurses lose out. Nurses should prioritise working with agencies that promise low fees to hospitals because this affects their likelihood of being placed in shifts thus increasing their income.

Now that we’ve covered how nursing agencies charge hospitals, what are the average agency rates for nurses?


Average Agency Rates for Nurses

A casual shift in a hospital will earn you an extra 18% (for a public hospital) or 25% (in a private hospital), whereas an agency nurse can earn an extra 45% on top of the base rate. In these three arrangements, this increased rate of pay is to compensate for loss of sick leave, annual leave and the lack of income security. 

This extra money is well-deserved. Agency nurses often take on shifts or have their shifts cancelled at the last minute. They are relied upon to hit the ground running and have the ability to quickly build relationships with new colleagues and work in varying environments with people they don’t know. 

The average salary for an agency nurse in Australia is $52.91 per hour. Salaries vary widely by capital city (with Brisbane topping the list and Hobart coming in last according to data averaged by Indeed). The average hourly rate in Sydney is $49.86.

So, yes, the average agency rate for nurses is higher, and for good reason, as explained above. However the high fees that traditional nursing agencies charge hospitals are a significant downside to being an agency nurse because these fees force hospitals to restrict their use of on-demand nurses.

So what are the alternatives for nurses looking for casual work?

Alternatives to Nursing Agencies?

In Australia there is a new alternative to nursing agencies. Nurses who are looking for casual shifts can sign up with uPaged, an online platform that connects nurses with hospitals who need shifts filled.

Why uPaged is a More Cost-effective Solution

uPaged was founded and is run by an Australian nurse, whose aim is to provide an alternative to costly recruitment agencies and connect nurses to work that suits their unique skills and experience. 

uPaged is a new platform that charges hospitals minimal fees in order to increase the availability of on-demand work for nurses. It’s different to a nursing agency in that it’s a marketplace that profiles nurses and hospitals, allowing both to make an informed choice over their shift or workplace. 

Because uPaged keeps fees low, it allows employers to spend money on attracting and retaining quality staff. This means that instead of healthcare facilities paying large commissions to recruitment agencies, employers can offer higher rates to the nurses doing the actual work.

About uPaged

The platform is fully transparent with a two way rating system for hospitals and nurses. This transparency will enable nurses to see which hospitals they would prefer to book with because nurses and employers will be able to see how often either party has cancelled a shift at late notice. Obviously the nurse will elect to choose a more reliable hospital with a lower cancellation rate than those hospitals which are notorious for cancelling nurses at short notice leaving them out of work and out of pocket. On the flip side of this, the hospital will be able to book the more reliable nurse, the one they are confident will turn up for their shift and not leave them under staffed at late notice.Employers can see the nurse’s work history, skills, references and qualifications and nurses can see the location, hospital information (including any available parking and uniform) and rate of pay offered. After the shift, both employer and nurse are able to review each other accordingly.

Check out how uPaged compares to traditional nursing agencies on the website Nurse In Australia. If you like how what we do differs from traditional nursing agencies, write us a review on our Nurse In Australia - uPaged profile.

Join uPaged

If you’re a nurse with more than 12 months of work experience, joining is simple and easy. Simply upload your paperwork and start building your profile straightaway. You can sign up using the uPaged app, build your profile and book shifts, all from your phone. Once your profile is verified and you’ve completed your police check, you’re ready to book shifts and be in control of when and where you want to work. You’ll enjoy a direct connection to hospitals that want you for your skills, with better allocations to patients that suit your experience. Click here to find out more.