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COVID-19 child care crisis

By Melissa Underwood

I am writing to request your urgent assistance to ensure child care remains viable and means tested. Families that continue to earn an income should pay a fee proportionate to their income.

Educators are on the front-line in this war against COVID-19. We are being asked to risk our lives every day to stay open to support the children of essential workers. I am one of them. Any minister that supports a policy that takes money from front-line soldiers in this war on COVID-19 is un-Australian.

On the 1st April Scott Morrison announced that all child care would be free from Monday 6th April. This is a lie. More accurately, Mr Morrison announced that he was going to take money from the service I am employed by to pay the parent child care levies.

I can tell you with absolute certainty that transferring money from the bank account of my employer’s service to the parents is not free. This policy is not targeted, appropriate or equitable. It is a poorly thought out reaction to gain popularity amongst working families.

I understand that the policy was written without any consultation with the operators of our sector.

Under the announced model, services will receive 50% of their income revenue (that is child-care centres and family fees) based on the last two weeks of February, and families will receive free child care. Our service is expected to take on new enrolments and additional days that families require yet our revenue is capped at 50% of our February income.

The reality of this package is that we have essential workers seeking care for their children and we will have to turn them away. We also cannot provide extra days for our existing families because we cannot afford to take them on for free. These families have nowhere else to turn and so cannot engage with their employment. Our employer is already financially struggling to provide adequate care for our existing families while receiving only 50% of our daily revenue.

Every extra child in care increases a services expense.

If services do take extra children on from Monday and receive $0 for them this is a massive economic saving to the government at the expense of services and educators, like myself, who will be basically providing charity. The government is already saving money from reducing all their current child care centres funding to 50% so this is a double saving for them. They have omitted the truth with this announcement.

This will have tragic consequences for services.

The Government believe that this, along with the proposed wage subsidies will allow services to operate viably, but they have it very wrong.

The wage subsidy is flawed. Every worker, regardless of what their wage is will receive a $750 per week subsidy. Those who earned less than this such as part time and casuals will receive the full subsidy, whilst those who earned more will receive this whilst my employer has to still make up the shortfall.

So, we receive 50% of our revenue and services have to foot the bill for the balance of wages and the full cost of salary on-costs.

I face having to reduce my working hours, or worse still, losing my job altogether. This will have a huge effect on my colleagues and I economically and forces a predominantly female workforce to provide charitable work.

Myself, like many others in this sector are highly qualified and this system exploits us economically and socially. Our working families are in shock and want to pay for their child’s right to adequate and quality care. They want a fair remuneration system in place for all essential workers during this pandemic.

Again, I want to reiterate this system is disturbingly flawed, and not only did our sector not have a say, our employer does not even have an option as to whether to opt in or out of this new system. It places services on the brink of closure.

I understand that we are living in extraordinary times and that I am being called into service and will need to make sacrifices to support the battle against COVID-19. I am ready, willing and able to do so, and am already doing everything possible to provide care to the children within our service whilst maintaining a healthy and safe environment for myself, my colleagues and children.

If this policy is allowed to pass parliament and our service has to subsidise the care for families that we know are earning sufficient money to afford our fees, then this will have a significant financial impact on my employer and the ability to remain operational. This will ultimately mean my job!

Please make sure that any child care fees paid by families continue to be means tested. Families that continue to work from home and earn an income should pay a fee proportionate to their income, and those who choose to remain at home to keep their family isolated should still be entitled to child care centres but to have their gap fee waived.

To expect services to operate on half their revenue, to continue to provide child care to families and keep their staff in work, under this new scheme is outrageous, and will result in the demise of many services, including ours.

I implore you to reconsider this package. It is not the solution that services were looking for in these unprecedented circumstances and it will have the opposite effect that the Government was looking for.

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  1. New England Cocky

    Another COALition policy with ramifications beyond the capacity of the Liarbral Nazional$ misgovernment. Again we see that small businesses and individuals are expected to carry the financial load of these COVID-19 restrictions. So, I guess the corporates will be crowing in their glass towers as they count the benefits for the bottom line received gratis free and for nothing from this inept conservative misgovernment.

    But the silver lining is the amount of new loan business that the banks expect to make from loans to small businesses carrying the misgovernment until the end of April 2020 and the unfortunate access to the Superannuation funds of workers that is the real cherry on top of the disaster for the rapacious sovereign guaranteed banks where executives have yet to take any cut to their inflated salary packages.

  2. John Millar

    In the reasoned (read panic stricken seat of the pants) SmirKo response to the need for child care services for Essential Services personnel offspring, announced Wed evening and commencing implementation today, 6th Feb, there has been zero recognition of the need for clear directions and revised paperwork, plus training in the changes. And about the same level of understanding of the financial ramifications on a low wage but accredited staff sector of the economy.These changes will be long term, extending way past the 3 (via Centrelink) and 6 (via ATO) month limits of the job wage schemes. Incompetence incarnate,

  3. Uta Hannemann

    Melissa, you say that your revenue is capped at 50% 0f your February income.
    This is outragous!

  4. Kaye Lee

    My daughter is also an early childhood educator. This policy was drafted on the premise that enrolments had dropped. At her centre, they haven’t. They still have a full cohort of kids. A few had dropped out and their places were offered to people on the very long waiting list and immediately taken up. Those offers have had to be withdrawn now. With gap fees waived, they have to operate with the same number of kids and staff on half the revenue. The owner is rightly asking why she should bother keeping open to operate at a loss.

    Whilst it might have sounded like a good idea to politicians and to centres that were struggling, it is a huge blow to a highly sought after service that has worked very hard to maintain a high standard. Do they drop their standards to reflect their loss in revenue? They can’t reduce staff as there are strict ratios and a centre full of kids.

    I worry every day about the danger my daughter is facing. They have excluded parents and grandparents from coming in to the centre so, every day, she has to greet them at the door and personally carry every baby or hold the hand of every toddler who comes in. She has implemented many practices to protect the children but, if a child falls over and is crying, they need a hug. Babies nappies need changing. The children still have to be fed – tiny tots can’t do that themselves.

    I agree with you Melissa. Unintended consequences from a poorly thought out populist policy on the run.

  5. Peter Habel

    Kaye Lee, you have nailed it: “Unintended consequences from a poorly thought out populist policy on the run”.

  6. Matters Not

    Many years ago, the Federal Government discovered ‘pre-schools’ and proceeded to fund that sector even though under Section 51 of the Constitution it lacked that power. But no State could resist that financial and political carrot (bribe). Soon after, nevertheless, (when the political gloss faded and the punters became dependent on pre-schools) the Feds cited Section 51 to lump the financial burden back to the States. Be interesting to see if history is about to be repeated.

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