State of early learning is ever changing but fails to reform

On Monday 8 June, in a public holiday surprise announcement, Federal Education and Early Learning Minister Dan Tehan announced the government’s intention to ‘snap back’ to the old childcare model, despite intense lobbying from employers, unions and parents. The concern is that this decision will leave the sector in a policy and funding vacuum, with the old model unfit to work in a post pandemic economy in the throes of deep economic recession.

Advocates from across the sector, including the IEU, have urged the government to sustain and expand the relief package that was announced on 2 April, to give the sector and government a chance to work together to redesign an early childhood education and care sector that will provide dividends to the Australian economy for years to come.

Numerous studies have shown, in a statistic that bears repeating, that for every $1 spent by government on early childhood education and care, the economy receives more than $2 in benefits in return. In this way, investing in early childhood education and care will boost Australian GDP, including through increased female workforce participation.

Most services are currently operating at significantly lower occupancy rates, with many operating at below the breaking even point. A survey of almost 1400 parents with young children conducted by The Parenthood showed that 44 percent of respondents had suffered a reduction of income due to the coronavirus, with 33 percent stating they would be forced to reduce days or remove their children from early childhood when full fees return. Such a rate of withdrawals from centres will only result in further financial stress for the sector.

In the government’s announcement, the minister indicated a continued suspension of the parental activity test. This is in line with the union’s requests and is an important measure to ensure people on JobKeeper and JobSeeker are able to still access subsidised care.

The relief package, which acted as emergency life support for the sector, still fell short of the mark in many regards – with many families unable to access care, providers struggling to stay afloat and many staff without jobs. However, to simply revert back to the old system because the replacement was also inadequate is not the answer.

During the lockdown, governments at all levels declared early childhood services essential services. Centres have remained open, with staff showing extraordinary commitment throughout this stressful and uncertain time to ensure health and other essential workers could continue in their roles protecting the community. Of additional concern is the government’s announced intention to cease JobKeeper payments for early childhood education and care workers, in lieu of a reduced transitional payment. Now is the time for the government to recognise the vital role that quality early childhood education plays.

There is no better time than now for governments at all levels, providers, and unions to come together to design and implement an early childhood education and care system that is affordable and accessible, so that no child is left behind and the value of early childhood workers is properly recognised.

Negotiations to recommence for a new Goodstart agreement

Despite the pandemic having a severe effect on their finances, Goodstart was able to ensure that all permanent staff were retained, as well as many long term casuals.

During the COVID-19 crisis, Goodstart held weekly briefings to keep us informed and asking for our input on what they were doing to assist their employees through this time.

Initial negotiations had started in February this year but were suspended during the pandemic lockdown. Staff received an interim salary increase in February this year. While we will be negotiating now in a very different economic environment, we are hopeful that we will still be able to gain improvements in the working conditions of teachers and directors.

Early childhood agreements

As we emerge from the shroud of the pandemic and centres start to look to the future, we are seeing a renewed interest in negotiating agreements. Should you like to discuss a new agreement for your service, please contact your union organiser, or Verena Heron

Verena Heron
Senior Industrial Officer