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Think it’s tough being an early childhood educator now? Just wait until 2 July 2018.

I’ve talked pretty endlessly on this blog, and on the Early Education Show podcast, about my concerns about the Federal Government’s new Child Care Package (formally known as the Jobs for Families Package, which tells you quite succinctly everything you need to know about these reforms). They’re bad for children, they’re bad for the sector, and the sector should not have supported them in any way.

As we heave ourselves over the line into 2018, the year that will see the introduction of this new legislation, I wanted to highlight an issue I am worried is not getting anywhere near enough attention.

One of the foundations of the reforms is a move to hourly billing. If you only look at this at a surface level, it seems innocent enough. Full-day ECEC services currently charge a daily fee, but children may only attend for 8, or 6, or 4 hours. Why should families pay for a full day if their child isn’t attending for 10-11 hours? That’s unfair, right?

Education Minister Simon Birmingham certainly thinks so.

“It is unacceptable that families who routinely need and use only four, six or eight hours of care are charged for 10 or 12 hours,’’ he told The Australian. “Offering more flexible ­options is especially important where children are primarily ­accessing services for early learning outcomes, rather than requiring childcare that supports families juggling work commitments. – The Australian, 23 November 2015.

And again, early in 2017.

But what we don’t want to see is a situation where taxpayers are being asked to pay for hours of care and support that aren’t frankly being used or accessed. There is no point the taxpayer subsidising and families having to subsidise care that isn’t actually being utilised. – Doorstop interview, 8 February 2017.

It’s hard to argue. When it’s put that simply, it does seem ridiculous to pay for hours that aren’t being used. But there’s a simple reason why a daily fee is charged, and it has a direct impact on every one of the nearly 109,000 early childhood educators working in ECEC.

A full-day fee, and an operating model that is predicated on full-day sessions, means that services and organisations can plan for full-time work for early childhood educators. Regardless of exactly when children are arriving or departing, most educators can work full-time – which is obviously good for educators, and good for the economy (although educators are not paid nearly enough for their incredible work). This provides an overall ability to have operational certainty. Recruitment and retention are big challenges now – imagine if you couldn’t offer full-time hours? This is the crux of the Government trying to shift the sector to hourly billing.

I outlined this concern in my submission to one of the many Senate inquiries held into this appalling legislation.

The proposal to move to an hourly fee cap … will severely undermine the current service delivery model for early education. [It] will mean the shifting of educators currently employed full-time to casual or part-time hours. – Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017 Submission 1

This outcome can only be inevitable given the legislation, and the responsible Minister’s public statements. Instead of being able to provide full-time hours to educators based on operational certainty of full-day fees, in order to remain viable there will be no alternative but for organisations to match educator hours to the hours used by families. If a lot families are only attending for half the day, how can you have most of your educators working a full-time shift? Remember that attendance patterns will also fluctuate over the year. What other alternative will there be but for organisations, in order to remain financially viable, to ensure that educator work hours are flexible to meet those changing hours? The best-case scenario here is just a dramatic reduction in educators working full-time hours. The worst-case, and by no means unlikely, is that all educators simply become casual, and are brought in on an as needed basis.

I want to keep this post focused on educators, but let’s take a quick moment to think about the affect this will have on children. We know that positive outcomes for children can only be delivered by professional, qualified and stable teams of educators. Imagine the scenario where you have no idea who will be actually working in what room, for how many hours, on any given week. Imagine how much this will impact the experiences children are having, the relationships they form, the sense of wellbeing and security they have. A child’s enrolment treated like paying for a car-parking space. How many hours do you want? Make sure you’re gone when the time limit is up.

But the affect on educators will be similarly devastating. Already underpaid and expected to work miracles in challenging and difficult roles, educators now face uncertainty as to whether they will even have a stable full-time job in the near future. This is incredible given the fundamental purpose of these reforms (say it with me people: JOBS. FOR. FAMILIES.). It’s about getting families back to work, and contributing to the economy. To do this, they are willing to structurally undermine an entire sector of the workforce.

Given the impact this change will have, you would assume this was a big issue being debated by the sector as the legislation was preparing to pass Parliament, right. Well – not as far as I can tell. I spent quite a while scouring the submissions of early childhood organisatons to the various inquiries over the last couple of years, and find a couple of very small dot points talking about it at best. It doesn’t get a look in at all in the big combined sector submissions (check them out here and here) – and together they employ a huge proportion of the workforce that will be affected by these changes.

(I want to point out that the organisation I work for made it one of their key points. If other organisations did the same and I missed them, let me know in the comments.)

We’re in 2018, and only six months away from the implementation date of the new Package. Organisations and services will be preparing, and working out how to operate in this new sessional hours-based model. Now might be the time to ask those organisations that largely supported this package what changes they are planning to make to their own educators. If I am just a doom-and-gloom merchant, and not a single educator who currently wants and has full-time hours will have to be reduced to part-time or casual, I would like to know how that will be the case. I hope I’m wrong, but I can’t see any other way to interpret the legislation and the Minister’s public statements.

The Pay Equity Case for early childhood educators, which has been running for what seems like forever, is expected to finally report this year. Incredibly, 2018 could see one of the sector’s biggest possible wins – a significant win on pay that is decades overdue – completely undermined by legislation that sees educators as little more than car park attendants.

By Liam McNicholas

I am an experienced early childhood teacher, writer and advocate. As well as managing community not-for-profit early childhood operations in a variety of roles, I have advocated for children's human rights; the need for investment in early childhood education; and for professional recognition and wages for those working in early childhood education and care.

I am available to be commissioned for freelance writing, editing, event speaking and consulting work.

15 replies on “Think it’s tough being an early childhood educator now? Just wait until 2 July 2018.”

You’re right to be concerned about the potential for casualisation of the workfore (and the consequent impacts on children, educators and services more broadly) should hourly billing be introduced. I was very vocal about this issue, including in this submission – One analogy I used during meetings with government was hotel rates. It doesn’t matter whether you check in at 2pm or 9pm – you still need a bed in a clean room and you are charged the same price regardless of whether you take up the full 18hr booking or only part of it. The consequences of a potential switch to hourly billing in ECEC have not been sufficiently debated and it’s an issue the sector needs to unite on. Urgently.

It is interesting as it seems when it comes to early childhood education all analogies disappear suddenly. The same debate applies to the pay rate, in other sectors and industries people are paied based on their experience and their qualifications, but when it is educators’ turn media changes the volume the highest and says familezhabe to pay more for childcare if educator demand what they deserve.
Are we switching from early learning and development services to occasional cares.

Good to see someone doing something about this issue Liam. ECE just seems to have fallen off the agenda. What other education sector would tolerate funding core staff on an hourly basis or having funding allocated on a year to year basis as is happening with the 15 hours of preschool?

For the record, both Community Child Care (Vic) and ACCS (National) maintained their advocacy for at least 24hours p/week subsided ECEC for ALL children – regardless of their parents’ work status. Some of the “big” players lost sight of their responsibility to advocate and thought they could, instead, negotiate. Look where that got us! ☹️😡😤

Liam as you may recall I spoke to you about this issue back in February 2017 when ECW took the concerns of this packages potential impact on the workforce to Canberra. As I stated then and will reiterate here – The EC Workforce does not have a voice in issues that effect them. There are voices for children, families and providers but the Educators voice is unheard and unless we come together as a sector to speak up collectively to grow our professional footprint the voice of the workforce will take a backseat to the interests of all other parties in the EC space.

Hi Lee, great to see your advocacy on the issue. It was unfortunate that overall advocacy by the sector on this legislation was so poor.

I would just add that there is a voice for educators, which is United Voice – the educators’ union. I would strongly recommend all educators join.

Yes Liam, it was a missed opportunity for positive change for children, families and the EC Workforce. I have said this many times also. Yes there is the unions, they have been around for many years just has the fight for professional recognition. Not every EC practitioner is or wants to be a union member and their voice deserves and needs to be heard also. By offering EC practitioners an platform ECW add strength to the movement from voices that would otherwise be unheard. Unionist would say everyone should be a union member. I too would recommend joining the union if you can because I believe the profession needs many advocates as there are many battles to be fought on many fronts if we are to gain professional recognition through a much stronger, confident and sustainable EC Workforce.

Another eclipse! How long this one will last?
Its shadow is on our framework!
Belonging, Being, and Becoming! How do you explain it based on the new hourly system.

I’m the director of a long day Care not for profit in a remote community and I have had very minimal information regarding the changes that are happening . I’m worried how the changes will effect the staff at our service as we have a very difficult time retaining staff as it is. If I need to reduce their hours they may walk even with the incentives that they are given : and I wouldn’t blame them. I’m still at a lose on how to change to this new system that supports families as well as the staff. Thanks for the vent.

we have program pricing already like half day four hours with lunch or no lunch a snack is in that four hour window then full day which is five hours or more. great business practise has been in for years why are we worried about it now. It seem now more of our parents will have to track their hours in their already busy schedules. running our parents to try save or make a space for more children. why did our area close two running day cares in the last three years and one was our collage day care. also some of the children need to be a child care system with special needs how are they going to benefit in any way with this hourly. than parents picking up their child up hourly in a routine of snacks programming lunch naps outdoor time and special activities like library time everything gets so upsetting in the program. did anyone think of the kids and parents who already have a busy live to compare to spacing and might dollar.i have been teaching for so many years maybe the government should ask older ece

Dear Liam, ACA NSW has highlighted this issue as well as the fact that many children from disadvantaged backgrounds will be the ones to suffer under these reforms. Our arguments fell on deaf ears. ACA NSW president Lyn Connelly even went on Q and A to try to get some publicity around this issue.

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