Child Care Industry
|About this Item||Subjects||Child Care; Wage Rises
||Speakers||West The Hon Ian
||Business||Adjournment, Division, Motion
The Hon. IAN WEST [4.03 p.m.]: Child care industry workers are some of the least well-paid and least appreciated employees in Australia despite the important, fundamental and essential work they do. They work in an industry where publicly funded and private operators compete to provide child care for the many families who cannot survive without this important service. Providing quality child care requires trained staff who deserve proper remuneration. Unfortunately many private providers deem it unnecessary to employ trained child care workers or to remunerate them appropriately. ABC Learning Centres, for example, is a large private child care provider that recently merged with another large provider called Peppercorn.
The new entity will be worth more than $700 million and will control 895 day care services across Australia. This situation gives Eddie Groves, the wealthy owner of ABC Learning Centres, control of 90 per cent of long day care places in Western Australia, 80 per cent in South Australia and 60 per cent in Queensland. Such a competitive advantage is of concern to other providers, to consumers, and to employees of those child care centres. The Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union [LHMU] has referred this issue to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. It certainly seems unfair that Michael Gordon, the head of Peppercorn, will get an incredible payout of $190 million as a result of the merger. That figure compares with the annual earnings of a child care worker of around $25,000 a year, or hourly rates of between $12.70 and $16.50 for those with a Diploma in Child Care, which takes from two to four years to obtain.
All the while ABC Learning Centres has used Australian workplace agreements to hold down wages and conditions to an obscenely low level. It claimed in the Industrial Commission that costs meant that it could not agree to a pay rise. This so-called incapacity to pay is outrageous given the importance of the care of children in the early years of life and given the huge dollar returns the child care centres report. Last year, for example, the profit of ABC Learning Centres increased by 77 per cent to $21.4 million and Peppercorn's increased by 193 per cent to $116 million. What must not be forgotten is the corporate subsidies that are involved in the industry where taxpayers money goes directly into the corporate pockets of the organisations. As LHMU industrial officer Sue Bellino pointed out about many private child care centre owners:
These are people in no-loss situations. They have been made into multimillionaires by taxpayers who heavily subsidise their businesses but they will not share their wealth with childcare workers who actually provide the services. The average childcare worker earns around $25,000. These are poverty level wages being paid by taxpayer-funded millionaires.
We have been continually encouraged by the Howard Government over the last nine years to be responsible citizens and accord with the idea of mutual obligation. It is time that applied not only to Centrelink clients but to the corporate elite, who hold in their hands the future lives of many working people. The reality is that private child care operators know they have an incredibly large market: as many as three million working Australians are parents of young children and nearly 800,000 children are in child care. The cost of child care in the past two years has risen by 32 per cent, about six times the increase in the child care benefit over that period.
Even the Federal Minister, Larry Anthony, admits that a low-income family is facing gap fees of $57 per week for one child in centre-based long day care. That adds up to $2,736 per child annually. The child care benefit remains too low, the waiting lists are impossibly long and the quality of child care is under threat from many operators who compromise facilities and expertise in the name of making the almighty dollar. According to the union, some of these private centres have to report an annual profit of at least $100,000. The State Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, has done the best she can in this area. Recently she successfully lobbied for a review of the Federal Government child care benefit. Through Minister Tebbutt's work a budget of $99.1 million was allocated to children's services from the Department of Community Services budget this year. That is a major contribution from New South Wales and currently it is not being properly supported by the Federal Government. [Time expired.]
Question—That this House do now adjourn—put.
The House divided.