All Victorian families with children enrolled in childcare services will be granted an additional 30 days of allowable absences – but the federal minister says he can’t compel providers not charge a gap fee when children stay at home.
With the Victorian government moving to reduce the number of children attending childcare as part of the harder lockdown measures, the federal government also announced on Thursday it would provide extra top-up funding to Melbourne childcare operators amid fears of a drop-off in revenue.
But the announcement was mired in confusion when Scott Morrison claimed “parents will not be required to pay a gap fee when their children are not attending” – less than an hour after his education minister, Dan Tehan, told reporters: “Ultimately the decision to waive the gap fee is up to the provider themselves.”
So what does it all mean for you?
What is the Victorian government saying about who can and cannot keep using childcare services?
From Thursday 6 August, Melbourne’s early childhood education and kinder services will only be available for children “who really need it”, according to the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews. He said this would be “children whose parents are permitted workers and vulnerable kids who can’t learn from home”.
Andrews elaborated on this at a media conference on Wednesday, saying there would be new “access to childcare permit” for parents or guardians who were classified as permitted workers and needed to continue to access childcare. “If you are a permitted worker, regardless whether you are working in person or from home, and you attest that there is no one else in your household that can look after your children, you will be able with that very simple permit to access childcare.”
You can find more details about permitted workers here. Andrews acknowledged the childcare restrictions would be “very challenging for many families” and apologised for the impact, but said it was aimed at driving down the movement of people and thereby reduce the spread of Covid-19.
What are the key details of the federal government’s rescue package?
Victorian families across the state – not just in Melbourne – will have access to an additional 30 days, or six weeks, of allowable absences from childcare, the federal government says.
The federal government will also provide an extra $32m in top-up payments to Melbourne childcare services in a bid to prevent staff layoffs or closures.
I have a child enrolled in childcare – what does it mean for me?
Across Victoria, you will have access to an additional 30 days of allowable absences – in addition to the 42 days under the existing childcare subsidy system. This means you should be able to keep your child enrolled but keep them home without penalty.
The government is also urging “encouraging centres to be waiving the gap fee” – the difference between the overall fee and the amount covered by the childcare subsidy – to families who have to keep their children home. But Tehan confirmed that the government “cannot, by law, compel services to waive the gap fee”.
While he said the government had consulted with the childcare sector and found that providers supported waiving the gap fee, the minister conceded it was always possible that there would be “an outlier”.
I run a childcare service – what does it mean for me?
Tehan appealed to childcare services to waive the gap fees, saying it was in their interests to do so “because it means they maintain enrolments and by maintaining enrolments when we come out of the pandemic, obviously, there are children then who will come back into their centres and they can provide that care and get the income that they need”.
The minister announced further funding to childcare providers aimed at easing some of the financial impacts that might flow from the tougher lockdown measures.
The government has allocated $16.3m towards a higher transition payment to Melbourne childcare services. Services in Melbourne would receive such payments at the rate of 30% of their pre-Covid-19 revenue. That’s up from 25% under the existing transition arrangements (the funding that replaced jobkeeper last month). They will also continue to receive the normal childcare subsidy for children who remain enrolled.
The government has also earmarked a further $16m to fund an additional top-up payments for eligible services that receive low childcare subsidy payments and are experiencing very low attendance.
I am an early childhood educator – what does it mean for me?
The government argues the new top-up funding to childcare providers will “further assist services to keep workers employed” – but it has stopped short of reinstating jobkeeper wage subsidy scheme for the childcare sector.
Last month the government introduced the transition payment to services instead of jobkeeper, saying it had heard concerns from the sector that the wage subsidy had not covered all employees like casuals and visa holders. However, unions say the “the so-called job guarantee” for childcare workers “only requires that workers remain employed but does nothing to stop wide-spread unpaid stand-downs which would be devastating to the workforce”.
What has been the reaction so far?
The Parenthood’s executive director, Georgie Dent, said catastrophic job losses in Victoria meant it was unclear whether parents would be in a position to keep their children enrolled. “Because it’s up to the discretion of individual providers to determine whether they will waive the gap fee there is still considerable confusion.”
Senator Mehreen Faruqi, the education spokesperson for the Greens, said the federal announcement was another case of “impromptu band-aids and ad-hoc fixes” to the sector.
The president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Michele O’Neil, also criticised the government for not reinstating jobkeeper, saying the new funding was not guaranteed to make it into the pockets of early childhood educators. “The Morrison government is trying to save money during a pandemic when it should be fully committing to programs which will keep people in jobs, with pay, and allow them to prevent the further spread of this virus,” she said.