By Ben Wilson
Early childhood workers have been left out. Care centres are being closed in Victoria, and this is likely to spread through Australia in the coming weeks. These workers are not getting JobKeeper help. Why?
This is an industry that has been underpaying its workers for a long time. The degree of skill needed to do the job has never been properly appreciated.
When the Coronavirus Pandemic hit, early childhood workers suddenly became essential. Someone has to look after the children of other essential workers. They had to stay at work and therefore excluded from government assistance.
But like anyone else, they can get sick. It they can’t go to work, or their workplace is shut down, they are left high and dry.
This is why a United Workers Union led campaign to change this has been launched. Called Don’t Abandon Victorian Educators in Stage 4, it aims to win JobKeeker payments and other support from the federal and state governments.
Tied to this is the second objective of working to end this group of workers being taken for granted. This is through the union’s Big Steps Campaign, to fight for professional pay, in line with training and experience. Wages are currently as low as $22 an hour.
The undervaluing of early childhood workers has been aggravated by years of defunding public centres, and the subsequent rise of private operators, often operating on a cost cutting basis. Wages and conditions have suffered. Jobs are often highly casualised.
Early childhood care is important. It provides a service that enables many parents to work in these difficult times, keep a home for their families and put food on the table. The children are provided with important education that will carry them for the rest of their lives.
The mistreatment of these workers is part of the neglect of the importance of their contribution. Like the other levels of education, it deserves to be properly funded by government. More early childhood centres are necessary to meet the need.
The United Workers Union is currently running a petition. It deserves support.