Omicron is causing ECEC crisis, Queensland providers say, calling for more support
Early childhood advocates in Queensland are calling for the Government to provide free rapid antigen tests and essential worker status for the sector as the already challenging environment of the sector is made worse by the presence of the Omicron wave of COVID-19.
As well as ongoing closures of rooms or services as a result of the presence of COVID-19, onsite services are battling with resignations due to vaccine mandates and staff who are recovering from COVID-19 or needing to isolate to care for family members.
“One hundred per cent across Queensland [have been impacted], so I don’t know many cities that haven’t had to close a service, or a room at least, due to staffing issues,” she said.
Ms Fitzsimmons said the “major shortage” of early childhood educators was an “ongoing crisis” leaving centres struggling to find educators to replace those who are on leave.
“Services are having to say: ‘Look, I don’t have enough staff in my service today to even be within ratio.’ These centres are closing and families are getting upset and cranky.”
When asked for her opinion on the Queensland Government’s response, Ms Fitzsimmons said she was “very shocked” and “really disappointed” that the back-to-school plan did not include support for childcare centres.
“We know that there’s no rapid antigen tests coming out for early childhood workers from the state government,” she said. “We know that they’re going to teachers at schools rather than early childhood services. What we need is the state government to fund and supply early childhood services with some rapid antigen tests.”
Ms Fitzsimmons urged the Government to follow the lead of New South Wales and Victoria and include early childhood educators on the critically essential worker list, which already includes school and kindergarten teachers.
In NSW and Victoria, early childhood educators are considered to be critically essential workers so that if a close contact at home has tested positive, the educators can do a rapid antigen test every day before they enter the premises, and, if negative, continue to work.
Queensland Health did not answer a specific question from the ABC about why childcare centres were not being provided with rapid antigen tests for workers, however a spokesperson did say that employers can assess whether their business is part of a critical industry and which roles are essential.
“If additional critically essential industries need to be added (or clarified) in the Direction, the Chief Health Officer will consider these requests,” the spokesperson said.
A workforce in crisis
United Workers Union Executive Director of Early Education Helen Gibbons told the ABC there were about 1,300 educator jobs being advertised in Queensland alone, saying unless there is a real plan for Australia’s educators, the issue “ is not going away in the short-term, it’s not going away in the medium-term,” and will “only get worse”.
“We had a workforce crisis going into this pandemic and now it is writ large,” she added.
“They have had to deal with a stressful and difficult working environment, continuing to be overlooked by government at every level and being asked to do so much and again continuing on $23-24 an hour.”
She said the federal government needed a long-term workforce plan for the childcare sector.
“By any measure, it is expensive, it is patchy in its quality. Early educators are leaving in droves. If the federal government can’t fix it, maybe it’s time for the state government to step in.”
To read the ABC coverage of this story please see here.
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