This really is outrageous – for the Labor government to allocate $300 million to top up the pay of childcare workers only if the childcare centres had entered into enterprise agreements, while encouraging (insisting) workers to join the United Voice union (misleading information galore).
Moreover, Labor knew full well that this sum of money would not be sufficient to go around … good one, Kate … and that one of its favourite operators, Goodstart (the not-for-profit that picked up the remnants of Eddie Groves’ childcare empire at rock bottom prices and is run by do-gooder ex-Macquarie bankers) applied 48 minutes after bids were officially open. And was awarded $132 million of the $300 million – gosh, that sounds fair.
And note that this operator has been a vocal backer of the National Quality Framework (and Labor, more generally) and on insisting that the ridiculous conditions apply to all operators lest its centres become uncompetitive.
Here’s the story, with the latest development a plea by the Childcare Minister, Sussan Ley, asking for the centres that have been awarded funds to return them … in her dream, I’m thinking.
THE allocation of Labor’s $300 million fund for wage rises for childcare workers was deeply unfair and the sector’s peak union used it to boost its membership, an independent report has found.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia report, to be released today, also finds that the wage increases that were promised did not fulfil the main objective of helping childcare centres meet the demands of the Gillard government’s national quality framework, which requires centres to have more qualified staff.
The Early Years Quality Fund “does not target funds to wage pressures related to the increased qualification requirements”, PwC concludes.
“Funding wage increases for unqualified staff and non-contact staff does not support the objective of the EYQF to increase the number of qualified educators.”
The report, commissioned by the Abbott government immediately after winning office, says a large proportion of the providers given conditional offers of funding identified that they were already meeting the new quality framework requirements.
“This outcome highlights that the EYQF did not effectively target services that were struggling to meet the NQF qualification requirements,” the report says. “The fund also required centres to negotiate an enterprise agreement in order to access the money.”
The report says that, prior to the announcement of the $300m fund, there were approximately 100 enterprise agreements in the sector; by the end of October, there were more than 400.
“There is evidence that the requirement to have an enterprise agreement was used by United Voice to increase its membership,” it says.
“The Department (of Education) advises that it monitored all media streams relevant to the EYQF and that the Big Steps Facebook page made several statements that staff needed to join the union in order to be eligible for funding under the EYQF.”
The report cites a “consistent message that stakeholders believed some of the behaviour of United Voice representatives during this time was inappropriate”.
“The majority of peak bodies reported that union delegates were using the EYQF as an opportunity to increase membership and pressured staff into feeling they were letting down their colleagues if they did not join the union,” it says.
The report finds that the policy for applications to be processed in the order in which they were received until the $300m funding cap was reached placed pressure on the sector and rewarded providers that had the ability to dedicate resources to the application process from the point at which the guidelines were released. At the same time, it disadvantaged smaller providers who required time and extra support to understand the guidelines before deciding whether or not to apply.
The report notes that applications opened at 11am on July 23. The nation’s biggest childcare provider, Goodstart Early Learning, submitted an application that was received at 11.48am that day and was almost 5000 pages long.
The amount it applied for was $132m, representing 88.1 per cent of the larger provider allocation and 44.5 per cent of total funding.
Twelve funding agreements were executed on September 6, and Goodstart was one of them which means it will keep the money it won because the government has promised to honour signed contracts.
Goodstart was represented on the EYQF advisory board. The day before applications opened the Goodstart representative offered to resign from the board due to a perception of a conflict of interest. The report did not find there was a conflict of interest with industry representatives being on the advisory body.
The report finds that the fund favoured large providers with 50 per cent allocated to large providers that represent 19 per cent of the sector and 50 per cent to smaller providers that represent 81 per cent of the sector.
Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley said she commissioned the report after members of the child care sector raised concerns that the Gillard government’s fund was a front for an aggressive union membership drive. “It’s clear all Labor has achieved with this fund is boosting union membership and driving a clear pay-divide through the child care industry,” Ms Ley said.
“Labor certainly can’t claim their policy was about pay equity and raising education standards when 70 per cent of long day care workers couldn’t receive a dollar of the $300m.
“That’s why the government is . . . reviewing Labor’s flawed and inequitable policy.
“This is also a perfect example of why Labor should have left pay rises to the Fair Work Commission; it’s the whole reason we have an independent umpire.”
Ms Ley reaffirmed the Coalition would honour funds contracted from the EYQF, with all remaining funding to be retained in the child care portfolio.