By William Olson
Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Michele O’Neil has hit out at the hypocrisy of the Morrison government’s committal of funding geared to support Victoria’s mostly privatised area of early childhood education centres while doing nothing to aid marginalised workers within the sector.
O’Neil and the ACTU have pointed out that the plan jointly announced on Wednesday by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Dan Tehan, the government’s education minister, have provisions to support the centres and parents who were leaving their young children there prior to any pandemic-related closures, but leaves no guarantees for support for early childhood educators.
Whereas JobKeeper was not reinstated as a part of the government’s $33 million plan of investment to the early childhood education sector, O’Neil pointed out its other flaws which would have otherwise seen early childhood educators being looked after in the COVID-19 crisis.
“Working people need to be supported so that they can stay safe and stop the spread of the virus. Not one dollar of what Minister Tehan has announced today is guaranteed to make it into the pocket of an early childhood educator,” said O’Neil.
“The so-called job guarantee only requires that workers remain employed, but does nothing to stop widespread unpaid stand-downs which would be devastating to the workforce.
“Under this scheme, a centre which is running at 80 per cent of its usual profit would not be required to guarantee work and pay for its workforce,” O’Neil added.
The government’s plan would only apply to Victorian centres and families affected by the Stage 4 lockdown measures across Melbourne, over the current six-week block of restrictions, and an additional 30 days of absence for areas of regional Victoria currently under Stage 3 restrictions.
As for the centres’ early childhood educators, the government is providing $16.3 million of income support, but it only covers 30 per cent of centres’ pre-pandemic operating revenue, which the ACTU says falls well short of the 80 per cent of cited profit margins.
“We will also make direct payments to childcare centres, so they stay operational and staff are kept with an employment guarantee, while remaining open for workers and vulnerable families,” said Morrison, speaking in general terms about the government’s plan of investment.
“We all owe a debt of gratitude to our early learning and childcare workers who have done such important work this year as our country has dealt with the coronavirus – every parent values your commitment to their children and their early education,” Tehan said, in an attempt to try and place a compassionate human-based spin on the program.
However, O’Neil remained adamant that much more can be done to ensure that early childhood educators are looked after and compensated on the same scale as the bookends of the centres and the parents as their clients.
“The Morrison Government is trying to save money during a pandemic when it should be fully committing to programs which will keep people in jobs, with pay, and allow them to prevent the further spread of this virus,” she said.
But overall, O’Neil insists that returning the JobKeeper subsidy to early childhood educators, after it was stripped away last month under the government’s revisions to the JobKeeper scheme, would be a proper complement to the government’s investment program.
The government announced in June that once the JobKeeper scheme ceased to be offered to workers in the early childcare education sector, all early childhood educators would be switched onto a “transition payment” which would equate to 25 per cent of a centre’s fee revenue or the hourly rate cap, whichever is less per fortnight.
When Tehan announced this alternate payment in June, he also said that a return to the previous Child Care Subsidy (CCS) package – a means-tested program to examine which families on the lowest set of earnings deserve the highest entitlement of subsidy – would also be included.
Which in the six weeks that passed between these announcements and the actual application of replacing JobKeeper with the transition payments, a different context was required at that time – a potential outcome which has neither been realised nor maintained.
“A review of the package found it had succeeded in its objective of keeping services open and viable, with 99 pe rcent of around 13,400 services operational,” Tehan said in early June.
“Because of our success at flattening the curve, Australia is re-opening for business and that means an increase in demand for child care places, with attendance currently at 74 per cent of pre-COVID levels,” he added at the time.
But O’Neil feels that early childhood educators would remain better off under their old JobKeeper scheme, versus any revisions and programs that Tehan and the Morrison government has unveiled since early June.
“The Government [has] stubbornly refused to admit their mistake in bringing JobKeeper support to an early end last month for workers in this sector,” she said.
Also by William Olson:
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