Teachers could be among the working parents faced with reduced childcare subsidies if the Productivity Commission’s recommendations into early childhood education and care are introduced.
Firstly, the Productivity Commission recommends an activity test of 24 hours of work, study or training per fortnight to be eligible for any subsidy toward the cost of childcare at all. Concerns about the activity test were raised by many stakeholders during the consultation process but it remained in the Productivity Commission’s final report, released last month.
Given a school day is likely to be measured at 6.5 hours (irrespective of how many hours the teacher actually works), a teacher will have to work at least 0.4 full-time equivalent to be eligible for the subsidy.
Exemptions would apply, including when a family experiences a sudden change in employment circumstances (for up to three months). However, it is easy to imagine a scenario where a casual teacher, available to work only on the two days a week for which she/he has childcare, might fail to meet the requirement.
In TAFE, the test is likely to have an impact on teachers and students.
For many years now, successive government policies have led to a massive casualisation of the TAFE workforce. Now with the implementation of Smart and Skilled, the trend continues, with permanent positions and courses being deleted and hours of delivery being reduced, leaving some teachers with few and unpredictable hours.
For its students, TAFE has always provided important opportunities to reengage with education and work, including after time spent caring for children. People experiencing disadvantage have taken up short courses to build skills and confidence to later take up full time education. Many parents working or studying in TAFE might find the activity test difficult to meet, putting their child/ren’s care places at risk.
The proposed calculation of the subsidy rate itself is problematic, basing it on the median fees charged for the type of service. There is a great range in the cost of delivering childcare in different locations, and any method of subsidising ought to reflect this.
In addition, the Commission recommends that school principals should “take responsibility for ensuring there is an outside school hours care service for their students on and/or offsite if demand is sufficiently large for a service to be viable”.
It is easy to imagine the government adopting such a recommendation as it comes at no cost but creates potentially an enormous workload for principals.
It also raises a series of questions which are as yet unanswered. Who determines if a service is “viable”? What if there is no interested service provider? What happens if there are no suitable facilities? How far does the principal’s responsibility extend?
The Department currently provides support for schools when an external provider is establishing and running out of school hours care on school grounds. This support, however, would need to be substantially extended if this recommendation were to be implemented.
Despite the economic bent taken by the Commission in its recommendations, it also makes reference to the rights of working parents. It recommends that a broad range of groups (which would cover both the Department and Federation) should be responsible for active promotion of flexible work for parents, including increased awareness about legal rights and obligations.
While the Government is yet to formally respond to the report and its recommendations, many of its actions to date, such as the retraction of its expanded maternity leave promise, suggest it is clearly intending to act in this area.