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The petition, organised by the New Zealand Nurses Organisation and the Service and Food Workers Union, is expected to be presented to the Government at the end of next month.
Nurses organisation Otago organiser Lorraine Lobb said there were guidelines about safe staffing, but research showed nobody was meeting them.
The guidelines were voluntary and could not be enforced.
Nurses and caregivers did their best to care for the elderly, but if things went wrong, stressed caregivers and nurses left to work elsewhere.
The petition is seeking a law specifying the level of nurses and caregivers required. This would also require adequate funding for employers to pay for extra staff.
Such funding needed to be tagged to pay decent wages and employ more staff. Ms Lobb said the petition got a good response from passers-by, despite the drizzly conditions. Most people knew someone who was either in an aged-care facility or worked in one and were aware of the issues, she said.
Recent publicity over suspected elder abuse had also helped to heighten awareness.