UWU calls for National action on ECEC in face of workforce shortages and centre closures
The United Workers Union (UWU) has joined the Australian Education Union (AEU) and called for national action from the Federal Government and National Cabinet to protect the young children who attend early education and the educators who care for them.
“As the Omicron variant sweeps through Australia early education is incredibly vulnerable,” said United Workers Union Early Education Director Helen Gibbons.
“Little children under five cannot yet be vaccinated. As a community we need to do everything we can to protect them and the people that surround them, that’s why we’re asking the Federal Government and National Cabinet to take urgent action on five critical support measures.”
The five measures UWU and AEU are calling for are as follows:
- Early educators to be nationally defined and recognised as frontline essential workers.
- Early educators should have priority access to PCR testing if required. Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) to be free and accessible for all educators, with clear and consistent testing, tracking and isolating protocols and procedures to manage staff shortages.
- The definition of close contacts must include exposure at work as well as home. Educators need to be financially supported to isolate.
- Centres that need to close for periods because of staff shortages to have access to financial support.
- As frontline essential workers, early educators need to have priority access to vaccine booster appointments.
“Educators are frequently being exposed to infection but have little support to get tested or to isolate,” Ms Gibbons said. “The sector relies heavily on casual workers, but these educators face financial insecurity and enormous risk.”
“Rules about exposure and isolation are inconsistently applied across the country and often centre directors are having to make decisions that should be clearly guided by public health,” she added.
“This is a further reminder that the current early education system is not fit-for-purpose and needs urgent reform. Early educators are doing their part. For nearly two years they have kept centres open and kept children safe. They need help.”
“Without a clear and consistent national plan for early education and to keep centres open, educators, families and businesses already struggling with a national workforce crisis will suffer.”
Thrive by Five supports call, seeks 85% guarantee
The Union’s call was backed by the Thrive by Five campaign, which is also calling on the National Cabinet to implement additional support measures to keep early learning and childcare centres open, safe and supported as the sector faces a national workforce crisis.
Over 400 centres are closed with many more running at reduced capacity, in particular, in the COVID-hit eastern states, a campaign spokesperson said. Those that are not closed must navigate inconsistent rules and surging COVID-19 exposure.
A lack of national coordination, they continued, has left educators, families and workplaces stranded.
Thrive by Five said urgent action is required to minimise the worst impacts of the latest COVID-19 surge. It is calling for:
- Clear guidelines and protocols for contact exposure, isolation requirements and for return to work or care after isolation.
- Free RATs for educators and families to minimise exposure at early learning centres.
- An 85 per cent subsidy guarantee to ensure educators can be paid, including those unable to work because of exposure.
“Without a clear and consistent national plan for the early years and to keep centres open, educators, families and businesses already struggling with a disrupted workforce will suffer,” said Thrive by Five CEO Jay Weatherill.
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