By Ashleigh Fielding | posted on April 9, 2020
THE Federal Government’s decision to make childcare services free alleviated many parents from additional financial strain during the COVID-19 crisis, but the decision has left daycare educators crying out for help with the prospect of becoming “slave labour” and closing their doors presenting a very real threat.
The Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package, announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan last week, will provide a weekly payment to childcare centres in lieu of parents to provide free childcare for families.
But ire has built amongst the daycare sector – particularly the Family Day Care (FDC) sector – as the Relief Package will only pay a capped 50 per cent of fee revenue or 50 per cent of the existing hourly rate charged by daycare centres – whichever is lower.
Payments will be backdated to February 17 and begin on April 6 until June 28.
FDCs traditionally offer care to smaller groups of children at a more affordable rate, compared to larger centre-based day cares.
Albany-based Family Day Care educator Tracey Smith said she will now be working for $4.30 per hour per child in her care for the month of April thanks to the Relief Package.
She said FDCs had actually since an increase in enrolments, due to the attraction of smaller group numbers.
“The Prime Minister tells us if you have a job, you are an essential worker … this leaves our industry questioning if we are a valued essential worker or an expendable resource – what other industry is required to continue working and receive 50 per cent?” Ms Smith said.
Owner of Albany Family Day Care Caroline Boocock is facing living off an $8 per hour income – $13 per hour if she gets JobKeeper – to support herself, her husband, their two children and their mortgage.
She does not think her daycare, which currently looks after 11 children, will be financially viable for much longer.
“Once again, childcare educators are not valued at all … we are told that we need to take one for the team,” Ms Boocock said.
Tara Kaspar from the Northern Territory said her Family Day Care cares for eight children and was operating successfully until the Federal Government’s Relief Package announcement and consequential Childcare Supplement (CCS) cut.
She will now be paid $5.10 per hour per child in her care, regardless if the care is conducted within or outside of normal business hours.
“When Scott Morrison announced childcare was free, I thought, ‘how kind of this man’,” Ms Kaspar said.
“Until … I would be looking at a 60 per cent cut in my wage, if not more.
“This one ‘fit all’ definitely won’t work.”
Barbara Langford, the CEO and part-owner of six Montessori Childcare Centres in Adelaide, will see five of her six centres trading with a negative balance each fortnight due to the new Relief Package.
Family Day Care Approved Provider Sonya Aylmore, who is responsible for ensuring educators in Albany, Denmark and Frankland River comply with legislation, says educators should at least be paid the maximum allowable rate of $5.55 for all hours of care provided.
“Our educators feel expendable, undervalued and used,” she said. “We acknowledge that we are fortunate to still have a contribution and ability to work in the economy, however we have a right to be remunerated appropriately for our contributions.”
Queensland Family Day Care educator Nicki Matassa works 86 hours per week and says knowing she will “essentially” work those hours for “free” has devastated her family.
“We are treated like the help,” she said.
“Actually, lower than help. Slave labour.”
Victorian educator Annabelle Moody will take an 81 per cent pay cut to try and keep afloat.
“This will cripple us. This will destroy Family Day Care,” she said.
Perth educator Mugdha Thapar called on the Government to close early childhood education centres.
“Is the Government waiting for more people, children and babies to die first and then will think about precaution in the ECE sector?” she questioned.
Perth educator Helena Drent’s Family Day Care will close down.
“I love my daycare families and I really want to be able to continue my service, but I refuse to be used and put my own kids last,” she said.
“I am done.”
In response to these concerns, the Federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment said most Family Day Care providers and educators may be eligible for JobKeeper, the Boost to Employer Cashflow measure, and/or the Relief Package.
The Department urged providers to visit dese.gov.au for more information and to ask any questions they had.