The COVID-19 pandemic has put a great strain on early childhood services, teachers, educators and parents alike. The Victorian government and, to some extent, their federal counterparts have taken steps to address the financial issues for services and families.
The Andrews government has also announced that 100% of funding will continue to be provided for all funded kindergarten programs, which means EC professionals can remained employed, parents are able to keep their children enrolled, and services can remain financially viable. Providers accessing JobKeeper are not eligible for 100% funding, but can choose to cease JobKeeper payments and instead opt for full funding.
Early childhood professionals continue to be deemed essential workers under stage 3 and 4 restrictions. As such, services remain open for all children in regional and rural areas.
In Melbourne, vulnerable children, along with those of permitted workers, have been able to access on-site childcare and kindergarten if there is no other parent or carer in the household who can supervise them for a set number of reasons. Both carers do not have to be permitted workers to access childcare – however, in an attempt to minimise movement around the community and possible viral spread, DET is asking that Victorians only access childcare and kinder services if they have to.
Federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan announced that all Victorian families will receive an extra 30 allowable absences on top of the 42 days already allocated. The federal government is allowing providers to waive the fee gap so that families will keep their children enrolled. The aim of the package is to keep services open and financially viable as well as guaranteeing the ongoing employment of teachers and educators.
The Andrews government has also acted to preserve jobs in the sector via its Employment Guarantee. Paid in lieu of JobKeeper, the Transition Payment should be used to support educators and employees, passed on through wages and payments.
The department considers standing down permanent staff without pay to be inconsistent with the Employment Guarantee. We are encouraging any members whose employer is asking them to reduce hours, sign a new contract of employment, or to make changes to their wages or conditions, to contact our Member Support Centre on (03) 9417 2822 before signing any documents.
Lastly, the education and support we provide to children, parents and the broader community will become ever more important as Victoria starts the long road to recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The work we do is essential – and we’ll be pushing for that to be recognised as we continue our campaign for wage justice in the early childhood sector.