The Guardian 8 March, 2006
Government failings with
childcare inhibit women’s right to work
The Federal Government’s failure to provide suitable quality child care is one of the main barriers to work, stopping more than a quarter of a million women who want a job, or who want to work more hours, from doing so. "A flawed childcare system is penalising the parents and the committed workers in our centres", Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers’ Union (LHMU) National Secretary, Jeff Lawrence, said.
Jeff Lawrence pointed out that while the LHMU Child Care Union is campaigning for decent pay rates to ensure childcare centres can attract quality staff, the Federal Government has consistently opposed these wage claims.
"We have won good pay increases in some States for our members — but we are still battling in places like NSW and Queensland and Western Australia to deliver decent pay for hard-working childcare staff. Affordable child care should not be delivered simply by ignoring the legitimate wage claims of this largely female workforce", he said.
Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) provide hard proof that the lack of affordable child care is harming the Australian economy, with more than 250,000 women wanting to work unable to because of a lack of suitable child care.
The Barriers and Incentives to Labour Force Participation survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), released in February, shows that:
Child care is one of the top barriers to work
Problems finding suitable or affordable child care is the number one reason why women who want to work are not looking for it
Almost 98,000 mothers who want to work are unable to start within four weeks because child care and family factors prevent them
Another 160,500 women who want to work, or work more hours, and consider themselves available to start immediately, are not looking for work due to child care and family factors
A lack of jobs with suitable conditions was the reason another 80,200 have difficulty obtaining work, or more paid hours — a response the ABS noted "may reflect a need for more flexible working arrangements".
The director of the University of South Australia’s Centre for Work and Life, Barbara Pocock, said the figures showed the childcare system was not working.
"This shows we have a really significant labour market problem arising out of Australia’s hopelessly outdated childcare arrangements", Professor Pocock said.
"The Government is spending a lot of money on this but clearly there are systemic failures in our child-care system — it’s in crisis."
The survey is particularly valuable because it also measures in a separate cohort the number of women with children who do not want to work, or do not want to work more hours.
Meanwhile, the biggest for-profit childcare chain, ABC Learning Centres, is in the Victorian Supreme Court appealing against a $200 fine for breaching the Children’s Services Act. A magistrate found last year that ABC Learning was criminally liable when a two-year-old boy wandered from its centre at Hoppers Crossing, 25 kilometres south-west of Melbourne. Last week ABC Learning announced a half-yearly profit last week of $38.07 million, more than double that of the same period last year.
Childcare costs have risen 49 percent between 2000 and 2004, a direct result of privatisation and government policy.