Union calls out COVID-19 risks with survey – two thirds of respondents feel unsafe at work

by Freya Lucas

June 02, 2020

The United Workers Union has conducted a national survey of over 1,000 educators, finding that a number of them feel that there are “widespread safety risks” and “dropping standards of education and care”  as the number of children attending long day care rapidly goes up while much of Australia lifts COVID-19 restrictions.

 

More than two thirds of respondents told the Union that they, and the children and families using their services, are “more at risk of COVID-19 as a result of increasing attendance,” while half of those who responded said they have had to compromise the quality of education and care they are providing daily or regularly during the pandemic. 

 

The Union said the increasing attendance rates thanks to free childcare, and a high level of health and hygiene measures needing to be undertaken were pulling educators away from their primary duty of providing education and care programs.

 

During the period of low attendance, many of the health and hygiene practices suggested by the Union in their six point plan were supported by educators deployed from other duties, something no longer possible as higher numbers return. 

 

The Union called on the Federal Government to provide financial assistance to support necessary hygiene and cleaning practices, saying that such support “is the only way to ensure these practices continue to keep children, families and educators safe, while not impeding on the provision of education and care programs”.

What is needed to ensure a COVID Safe Early Learning sector?

 

To ensure that all early learning services are equipped to continue to manage the risks of COVID-19, a support package with funding for enhanced cleaning, and required training for staff is required, including the following, United Workers Union said: 

 

  • Funding for services to engage professional cleaners to maintain daily cleaning regimes;
  • Requirement to demonstrate the existence of a trained health and safety representatives in accordance with state and federal health and safety legislation, to monitor practices and compliance with health guidelines and resolve disputes;
  • Allocation of funding to support the time needed for training health and safety representatives;
  • Requirement to demonstrate a COVID response policy in the case of an outbreak in the centre, and that all staff have been trained in the policy; and,
  • Requirement to consult with staff on any changes to health and hygiene practices as advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee is updated.

 

Core health and hygiene findings from the survey include: 

 

– 69 per cent of educators report that they believe that the health risk to themselves and the centre’s families and children is increasing as more children attend their service.

 

– 8 in 10 educators believe additional staff are needed at their centre to maintain adequate health and hygiene practices.

 

– 21 per cent of educators feel unsafe at their centre.

 

– 69 per cent of centres do not have a health and safety representative.

 

As well as concerns about health and hygiene, the educators surveyed spoke about their concerns about declining quality as they attempt to meet the needs of the children in their care whilst maintaining strict cleaning regimes, with 72 per cent of educators saying they were compromising the quality of their care regularly to meet demands, and 53 per cent saying there was a daily impact on quality during the pandemic due to a lack of staff.

 

Some of the more pressing issues reported by educators included: 

 

– Frequent roster changes and room arrangements making consistency of care difficult.

 

– Workers are on restricted hours and a lot of staff are calling in sick, with more work to do and more pressure to get things done, the ability to provide care for children is compromised.

 

– “It’s just about supervising the children as there’s too many for the staff present”.

 

– Staffing was not consistent 

 

– An inability to maintain the ‘exceeding’ standard because “a lot of the extra things we did (that gave us an exceeding in all areas rating) are being dropped and morale is dropping”.

 

– “It seems all we are doing is cleaning, and not spending quality time with the children as we don’t have cleaners.”

 

Helen Gibbons, United Workers Union Director of Early Learning said that as children return in higher numbers, educators need to be able to focus on the care and education of the children.

 

“The survey results show these are concerning issues to be dealt with urgently, the Government cannot delay. Funding must be delivered for services to resource cleaning and to maintain daily and regular cleaning regimes,” Ms Gibbons said. 

 

Ms Gibbons also said that the survey reveals the deep toll the past few months have taken on the sector and its ability to provide quality learning during the pandemic. 

 

“Our educators are desperate to return to the pre-COVID-19 standards of early learning as attendance increases. This can only happen if centres have the resources to clean and deliver high quality early learning programs.”

 

More information about the United Workers Union may be accessed here

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