A $300 million fund to give pay rises to childcare workers, rolled out earlier this year by Labor, has been labelled a “union slush fund” and axed by the Abbott Government.The Labor government under former prime minister Julia Gillard announced the Early Years Quality Fund (EYQF) to give childhood educators and teachers in long day care centres a pay rise for two years.But the Coalition says it will now “redirect” nearly all the funding to “professional development” programs for staff.The decision means thousands of childcare workers, whose centres had been offered a conditional grant from the government but had not yet signed contracts, will miss out.Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley says the fund was a “sham” and a “cruel hoax” on workers that would have boosted the pay packets of just 30 per cent of long day care educators.She says the funds will be better spent on helping staff gain higher qualifications “and to improve quality outcomes for children”. “The objective is that every educator in every long day care service can benefit, not just a chosen few,” she said.”This will be the single biggest investment in professional development for long day care educators.
And I’m very excited about that.”However, $62.5 million of the fund, already written into contracts with 16 childcare providers, will be paid.The 15,500 workers at those centres will still receive the $3 to $5 an hour pay rise – but only for the first year.However, Ms Ley says she is appealing to those providers to give up the funds in favour of the “greater good”.”This is an opportunity to lift the entire sector and deliver quality outcomes for children,” she said.Labor has slammed the decision as an “absolute shambles”. Opposition early childhood spokeswoman Kate Ellis says the Coalition is breaking its election commitments and putting childcare providers in an “impossible position”.”Childcare providers have seriously just been told that their contracts will be honoured, but also that the Government wants the money immediately returned,” she told ABC News Online.United Voice, the union representing childcare workers, says educators are “some of the lowest paid workers in the economy” earning $19 an hour.”The fund is about setting a benchmark for early childhood educators, some of the lowest paid workers in the economy who do amongst the most important jobs, looking after our children,” union president Michael Crosby said.”It’s about wages, it’s about one of the most fundamentally appalling abuses of the wages system in this country that exists.”Union dismisses accusations of ‘bullying’ Both United Voice and the Independent Education Union have applied to the Fair Work Commission for a permanent wage rise but the case could take nearly two years before a finding is handed down.Ms Ley says she “personally” supports higher wages for childcare workers and says the Fair Work Commission is the appropriate forum for pursuing boosted pay rates.And she has accused the union of using the application process for the ECQF “to bully and intimidate a vulnerable group of workers”. “The sector reported that the union provided misleading information regarding eligibility requirements – namely that you had to be a union member to receive the EYQF funds,” she said.”There were many reports of inappropriate behaviour, including late-night phone calls suggesting non union-member staff were letting down their colleagues.”Mr Crosby says that is “absolute rubbish”.”Yes, there’s a union campaign to organise the entire early childhood education workforce,” he said.”We’ve signed up members before this fund was announced, while it was announced and we’re signing up members today, as we will over the next two years, three years as the campaign goes on.”Educators are saying to each other we actually need a strong union, because unless we’ve got a united voice in the workplace, we are not going to get a decent rate of pay.”Mr Crosby says the union is “very confident” of its case for higher wages at the Fair Work Commission, but says his members acknowledge that parents will not be able to cover the increased costs.”That’s why we went to the government, that’s why we went to the taxpayers of Australia and said this is a community responsibility, everybody’s got to pay a small amount so that these educators can continue to work in their jobs and do the jobs that they’re doing,” he said.Ms Ley says the Government’s new professional development program will pay for educational courses, industry conferences, learning resources and to backfill staff who take part in such activities.But Mr Crosby says it’s a mere “sop” to workers and to the ongoing problem of staff retention in the industry.”The problem is these women are not paid a decent wage, that is why they are leaving the sector in droves – at the rate of 180 each and every week that goes by,” he said.”The problem is not a question of funding professional development, the problem is putting food on their tables.”They’re not going to stay to get a bit of professional development, they’re going to go to a job that pays them a decent wage – and who can blame them?”
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Government axes Labor's $300 million Early Years Quality Fund to boost childcare workers' pay
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