Childcare operators say they’re wanting answers about how they will be able to operate in Melbourne’s Stage 4 lockdowns, with confusion over definitions in the state government’s new orders.
Scott Morrison said he is “seeking some further clarity” from Daniel Andrews on that issue, as the Prime Minister himself faces questions over the introduction of a new pandemic leave disaster payment for workers who have to isolate due to COVID.
Mr Morrison announced a $1500 pandemic leave ‘disaster payment’ to help workers without sick leave who have been forced to isolate, but is now under pressure to extend JobKeeper to childcare workers.
The Victorian government announced strict new industry shutdowns on Sunday and Monday, with some sectors to be dramatically scaled back and others closed entirely.
It’s part of the state’s Stage 4 coronavirus lockdowns as it tries to stem an avalanche of new cases.
Part of the shutdowns includes childcare and early education centres, with only the children of “essential workers” to be permitted to attend.
Premier Daniel Andrews said his government would look to share a list of who is classed “essential” in coming days, but as of Monday night, it was still unclear.
Child care was briefly made free for families as the federal government looked to support workers hit by the pandemic, with the PM announcing the JobKeeper wage subsidy would be given to those employees.
But it was recently withdrawn, leaving childcare workers without the subsidy and instead supported by less valuable transition payments.
The United Workers Union said those payments are not enough to cover the loss of income from the new lockdowns, potentially leaving “tens of thousands of Melbourne educators at risk of being stood down without pay”.
“This is a completely unacceptable position to leave early childhood educators in: With no idea if they will be able to provide for themselves and their families next week,” the UWU’s Helen Gibbons said.
“The sweeping changes announced today in Victoria have exposed the true foolhardiness of cutting JobKeeper for early education.”
Tens of thousands of early educators in Melbourne are facing no guaranteed income for at least 6wks after today's #covid19Vic lockdown announcement. Educators were the first to have #JobKeeper cut by the Federal Gov #auspol #springst
— United Workers Union (@UnitedWorkersOz) August 2, 2020
Federal Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi called on Mr Morrison to extend JobKeeper again to all childcare centres.
“We need urgent clarity from the Victorian government on who is eligible to continue to access child care. Families and children in vulnerable situations should not be turned away,” she said.
“The current situation is untenable.”
When PM Morrison and Premier Andrews were asked on Tuesday about how the childcare sector would be supported, both men said the details were still being ironed out.
“That’s a very significant issue, and not one I can make announcements about,” Mr Andrews said, but also hinting that he hoped the federal government would again extend support.
“There is an acknowledgement … the runs are on the board, if you like, in that there was a direct intervention by the Commonwealth government to support this sector.
“I know there are lots of different discussions going on about that.”
Mr Morrison said federal Education Minister Dan Tehan was in negotiations with Victoria, and was seeking “further clarity” on what the state’s definition of an “essential worker” meant.
“It’s very important that we keep these facilities open so they’re available to people who will need them and there are a number of ways we can do that … We’re very committed to ensuring those facilities remain available,” the PM said.
“They’ll be very important for especially those who are health workers or otherwise unable to provide arrangements for their children as they’re earning income … there are a lot of questions that are still unanswered”.
Samantha Page, CEO of Early Childhood Australia, said she had hoped for more clarity from government by now.
Speaking to ABC TV on Monday night, she said the sector was hoping for more information quickly.
“Early childhood educators and teachers have been working all the way through this pandemic. They have been on the front line. They need certainty about their working conditions and employment over the next six weeks,” Ms Page said.
“It is a difficult position to be in. It is easier if the government provides some clarity around that.”