New early childhood councillors welcomed

Nominations for Early Childhood Services (ECS) Council closed on Thursday 15 July.

The IEU’s ECS team would like to say thank you to ECS Councillors who will not be returning to their positions on the Council: Lyn Connors, Ariane Simon, Julia Cameron and Suzanne Snowball. Each of these members have made invaluable contributions to the work of the union over the years and they will certainly be missed.

Going forwards, the IEU congratulates returning ECS Councillor Amy Martin. We extend a warm welcome to our two new Sydney Metropolitan Councillors, Michelle Thompson and Natalie Leeson and new South Coast Councillor, Jane Courtney. The Hunter/Central Coast position is vacant as we did not receive any nominations for either of these branches. An election will be held in Term 4 to determine the three country positions.

Of course, Gabrielle Connell remains our ECS Vice President until 2022.

Impact of lockdowns

The IEU received several inquiries from early childhood members regarding working during to the COVID-19 pandemic, being classified as vulnerable due to serious health conditions and yet unable to physically distance with young children.

The onerous testing requirements in some areas, the need to supervise their own school-age children engaged in remote learning at home and the attendance of children with parents who are either working from home or not working were all concerns.

In addition, long day care centres saw a sudden drop in attendance with a corresponding decrease in income once the Federal Government announced that services would not need to charge the gap fee for children if they do not attend early childhood education and care (ECEC) during the lockdown.

The NSW Government has not asked families to keep their children at home, except in the intensely affected south-west and western Sydney local government areas.

While this seems to be at odds with directions that people should stay at home to minimise movement and the risk of transmission, parents who continue to send their children to preschool are not failing to comply with the legal requirements.

That said, no children or employees with any COVID symptoms should be allowed on the premises and you may require a negative COVID test for those who have been away sick with relevant symptoms before they can return to the centre (providing this is consistent with centre policies).

The IEU’s position is that a reduction in attendance does not enable employers to stand down or reduce the hours of employees according to the requirements of the Fair Work Act.

Licensed early childhood services are required to have a risk minimisation plan for children with compromised immunity or complex health care needs. It would be in the best interests of employees for the centre to review their risk management plan for children and develop one for employees in this situation.

Work from home options

As early childhood services remain open during the lockdown, employees can be required to attend work but it’s worth looking at whether some work can be done at home. If attendance is lower than usual maybe not all staff need to be on the premises to maintain staff: child ratios.

I suggest directors develop a plan to support employees to work from home. This would include current attendance patterns and the number of staff required on the premises to maintain ratios.

The plan should include the tasks that could be performed at home, a list of employees deemed vulnerable due to health conditions and those who have children at home learning remotely.

Work that could be performed at home includes sending updates to children on projects/investigations they had already commenced at the centre; writing up formative/summative assessments and long-term goals for children; or updating learning cycle templates.

Educational leaders could be researching and developing training for the other staff at the centre in addition to reviewing the centre’s program and individual documentation of children’s learning and development; some staff could hold short Zoom sessions to support children’s learning including activities that can be done using objects commonly found at home.

The director could be organising rosters considering the needs of different employees from home etc. If some tasks can be performed at home, vulnerable employees should be prioritised for these tasks and those with caring responsibilities should be considered after vulnerable employees.

Teachers can apply to take their accrued annual leave. However, taking leave is by agreement between the employer and the employee so there is no guarantee that your employer will approve your leave. They need to balance requests from all employees while meeting the staffing requirements specified in the National Regulations.

Reduced hours

Some services have notified employees that they are seeking to reduce their hours of work due to a substantial drop in attendance. The IEU’s position is that a reduction in attendance does not enable employers to stand down or reduce the hours of employees according to the requirements of the Fair Work Act. Contact the union immediately if your

Lisa James