Prime Minister Scott Morrison has so far maintained that public schools, kindergartens and childcare centres will not close, warning that if they shut now, they would not open again for six months, potentially costing “tens of thousands of jobs”.
But with the situation rapidly changing, many independent schools closing voluntarily and parents taking kids out of care, unions and advocacy organisations are urging state and federal government to commit to providing for vulnerable workers.
Early childhood, out-of-school care and TAFE services have fewer legislative protections than schools and a highly casualised workforce.
The United Workers’ Union has warned ‘there is a crisis looming” for the early childhood sector due to the lack of guaranteed funding.
Kylie Brannelly, chairperson of the National Outside School Hours Services Alliance, said nothing had come from the government that “offers certainty for our workforce”.
“Our sector are panicked by the situation and particularly our casuals not knowing if they will be out of work and unpaid for a length of time,” she said.
“Outside school hours care is particularly vulnerable as 70 to 80 per cent of our workforce is casual.
“This could have significant impacts as we won’t be left with a workforce when the country recovers from this.”
Ms Brannelly said her attempts to discuss solutions to government departments were “not being received favourably”.
“There seems to be a lot of unwillingness to compromise which is again ridiculous given the situation our country is in.
The Australian Education Union’s Victorian branch assured its members via social media that it was in constant discussion with the state education department.
“We know that this is a stressful and anxious time for you,” the union said.
“We want to be clear that we are demanding that employers provide appropriate support to AEU members across a range of issues including OHS, pay, arrangements for casual staff, arrangements for high-risk employees and employees with high-risk family members and closure of workplaces.”
More broadly, the Australian Council of Trade Unions has called on the federal government to commit to two weeks of paid special leave for every Australian worker during the outbreak.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said the public response had been overwhelming.
“People are worried about what this pandemic will mean for their jobs and they want certainty from their government,” she said.
An Australian Unions petition in support of paid special leave has attracted more than 100,000 signatures.
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with Michael Fowler
Anna is a breaking and general news reporter at The Age.
Madeleine Heffernan edits The Age’s Monday education page