The Guardian 22 June, 2005

For-profit childcare hits Defence

The LHMU Child Care Union has called on Australia’s biggest corporate child care operator — ABC Learning Centres — not to reduce standards at their newly acquired Defence Barracks childcare centres.

"We’re insisting that the company maintain quality standards. We want them to urgently sit down with the union and properly discuss hand-over arrangements", Ron Monaghan, LHMU Queensland Branch Secretary said last week.

Dedicated childcare professionals working in childcare centres at more than 20 Australian Defence Barracks across the country, may, because of the stand they have taken on behalf of parents, lose their jobs on July 1, Ron Monaghan warned.

When the Department of Defence opened up tenders for the provision of child care services they did it on the basis that all staff would be offered employment with the new employer. The Department also promised the same remuneration and conditions, including standards of delivery. These professionals have banded together and told the "for-profit" childcare giant taking over the centres that they refuse to allow the corporation to reduce any conditions and particularly the quality of care.

The contract for the centres, which for the last seven years KU Children’s Services have supplied quality child care, will now go to Australia’s fastest growing for-profit childcare corporation — ABC Learning Centres.

Ron Monaghan says ABC have offered employment on contracts that exclude paid working time for childcare professionals to plan developmental programs that go to the heart of quality childcare issues.

Carly Postill, a wife of a Department of Defence employee and a mother of a child at one of the centres, expressed how she felt about the situation:

"I am extremely disappointed that assurances from Department of Defence that standards and quality would be upheld, appear to have been ignored.

"The parents raised these concerns, about standards and quality with the Department and were told that all standards, such as non-contact time and planning time would remain.

"I believe that reductions in these standards will have a huge impact on the care of children.

"I feel that I have been misled and I and other parents are appalled. In my view ABC needs to be held accountable for what the childcare professionals consider to be the extreme pressure that removing or changing these standards will put on staff and the quality of care. They also need to account for, the no doubt, extra profit that they will make from these kids", Ms Postill said.

Childcare employees have reported to the LHMU Child Care Union that they have come under significant pressure not to make any comments to the media. Some Department of Defence employees have also reported being gagged by top brass.

Liz Coffey, the LHMU organiser who has been working closely with LHMU members at the centres, said, "At first they wouldn’t let the union into the staff meetings but when staff insisted that I be there or there wouldn’t be a meeting they had to let me in.

"I heard ABC management promise to keep standards such as non-contact time and programming time as conditions of the employment, but now they are refusing to put these conditions into staff contracts."

Ron Monaghan said LHMU childcare professionals have enormous difficulty signing these contracts.

"Those that are refusing face no job when ABC takes over in two weeks.

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