Early Childhood Protecting your health and wellbeing in early childhood settings

Staying safe at work (photo: iStock).

The AEU continues to raise your concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic with government, WorkSafe, ELAA, and individual employers. We’ve also put together some guidance around common issues and how they can be addressed.

“My workload has really intensified. I’m expected to deliver face-to-face teaching and remote learning.”

DET has very reasonable expectations about managing the demands of on- site and remote learning. No one is expected to replicate what you do on-site for families learning from home. The current VECTEA and EEEA provide a clause for dealing with excessive and unreasonable work (clauses 16 and 14). In the first instance, raise your concerns with your employer and determine how the workload can be managed fairly and equitably across the service.

“I’m undertaking lots of additional cleaning throughout the day. I’m exhausted.”

When it comes to cleaning, the advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) is to adhere to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) childcare cleaning guidelines, including: clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces at least daily (e.g. play gyms, tables, hard- backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, desks, toilets, sinks) and wash and launder play items and toys as appropriate in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If possible, launder items using the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and dry items completely.

Due to the continued advocacy of the AEU and members engaging in the collective call to action, Minister Merlino announced $2.6 million in grants would be made available for all early childhood services delivering a funded kindergarten program to support their cleaning and hygiene during this pandemic. An advice sheet for members on how to clean safely in early childhood settings during the pandemic is available on our website.

Teachers and educators should not be responsible for deep cleaning unless it’s part of your contract and you are being paid appropriately.

“I’m feeling really overwhelmed by juggling working from home with my other commitments to my family.”

This is an experience shared by many in our community right now. DET understands that program delivery for staff working from home can be affected by a range of responsibilities. A good employer will appreciate that you are juggling multiple demands and make reasonable adjustments to your work. Have a conversation with your employer
if you are feeling this way and discuss options to lessen the load. If you need to take personal leave to manage your health and wellbeing, this is available to you. Be kind and compassionate to yourself and your colleagues.

“How can we possibly social distance with young children and with other adults? Our office spaces are so cramped.”

Initiate conversations with your employer about how you manage these issues and put plans in place, particularly as attendance rates increase. What can you control and what is your employer responsible for? Many services have adopted novel solutions, including markings on the floor, new practices at sign-in and sign-out times, staggered start and finish times, and lots more indoor and outdoor play (which will become trickier in the wetter months). Where space for non-contact time is an issue, what other spaces may be available to undertake this work, including working from home?

We’ve asked the department to continue to provide guidance on how social distancing can be maintained, particularly as numbers increase. The current advice can be found on education.vic.gov.au and safeworkaustralia.gov.au.

“I’m a vulnerable worker and I feel nervous about returning to my centre.”

It’s perfectly understandable that some people are feeling anxious, particularly those deemed as more vulnerable in our community, or those who have been away from their normal place of work for some time. If you fit one of the government categories for vulnerability, or are just feeling nervous about your return, consult with your employer about a return to work plan that reduces any risks or hazards. Safe Work Australia has produced many useful resources to help employers and staff have these discussions and put plans in place.

Consultation and conversations

Being safe and well at work depends greatly on genuine opportunities to consult (a requirement of the OHS Act) and using the resources available to us during this time, including the clauses within our industrial agreements. Just having the conversation with your colleagues and management is a great start, and we also encourage members to use the services and support of the AEU.

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The common theme for Term 1 has been the power of connection. Meeting each other face to face. Listening and being heard. As educators, your voice is a powerful tool for change. We hope you hear your voice reflected here.

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