Unions respond to free childcare announcement with concerns about job preservation
While yesterday’s announcement in relation to significant short term reform of Government funding for the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector was cautiously welcomed, more needs to be done to ensure jobs within the sector are preserved, both the New South Wales/Australian Capital Territory branch of the Independent Education Union (IEU NSW/ACT) and the United Workers Union (UWU) have said.
IEU NSW/ACT Branch secretary Mark Northam said that while the package will help many services who are on the brink of closure, concerns remained about the widespread loss of employment which may arise in the sector with fee revenue subsidy being capped at 50 per cent, especially for services who are not eligible for JobKeeper, or who do not attract Child Care Subsidy (CCS) funding.
Mr Northam also made special mention of the nation’s largest not for profit provider, Goodstart Early Learning, who are currently ineligible for JobKeeper with revenues just over $1 billion. With 16,000 staff in their employ, and 655 services, the impact to the sector as a whole should Goodstart be unsupported is likely to be significant.
Preschools and Family Day Care educators have expressed their worries to the Unions, with Mr Northam keen to see action from the NSW Government in relation to a supplementation of Start Strong funding to keep preschools open and teachers employed.
“Prime Minister Scott Morrison has belatedly recognised the crucial role that early childhood educators play in our communities and our economy” said Helen Gibbons, UWU Early Education and Care Director, adding that while the announcement, “will be a huge relief to many families who are struggling to make ends meet, many with reduced hours and income”, the rules around JobKeeper may mean thousands of educators are worse off.
“Right now Centres need to prove a significant downturn in revenue before being able to apply for JobKeeper. Many centres cannot afford to wait that long, and this money is not due to be available until May. They need support NOW” Ms Gibbons said, noting that by the time a small service has lost enough revenue to be eligible for the program, it might already be too late to reverse the financial effects, putting jobs and the community’s ability to work and support the economy at risk.
Put simply, as an essential service, ECEC providers “should not have to prove a critical loss before being able to take steps to retain their workforce” Ms Gibbons said, calling on the Government to make all early childhood education and care providers automatically eligible for the JobKeeper program.
“We cannot afford to lose even one centre to this pandemic. We need to take steps to make sure that centres can stay open through this crisis and beyond – to retain staff and keep the ECEC sector viable long term” she added.
Until all details of the newly announced early childhood education package are clearly understood, the IEU NSW/ACT called on all employers in the sector to cease terminations and “constructively explore all options” including JobKeeper payments and the $14 million Community Child Care Fund Special Circumstances Grant Opportunity for early learning services whose viability is impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Ms Gibbons said the announcement yesterday did little to assuage educator fears about health and safety during the pandemic, saying that “the continued Government silence on these issues is worrying.”
Last week the Union issued a six point plan, designed to support services to ensure their health and safety was paramount at this time, and while the plan to introduce free childcare will be a welcome relief for families, increased attendance may leave educators more vulnerable.
Supporting this position, Mr Northam said “An open service is only good to staff if it’s a safe service.”