“Get yourself a sponsor and become a BHP Kinder!”

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Peter Yates is an unemployed social worker who became “redundant” in 1992 as a result of a job-slashing program. In 1993, he was President of the voluntary parent management committee,which runs the Greensborough Kindergarten and active in the resistance to the Kennett government’s draconian kindergarten cuts.

“Previously the management committee was normally the employer, but the Department of Health and Community Services actually paid the wages directly. The cuts are an attempt to make management committees act as employers. A management committee will pay wages, draw tax and make budgets balance when funding no longer relates to the cost of running the kindergarten. Funding is now per capita. The consequence is many kindergartens will be forced to close.

A kinder with 40 enrolments will get $32,000. A kinder with 50 enrolled, $40,000. But most kinders cost between $68,000 and $80,000 per year to run. A management committee has to make up the shortfall, which could mean raising the vicinity of $30,000 – $40,000!

Fees were about $50 per child per term. In this area, most kinders now charge between $115 and $145 per term. That puts the price of kinder up to $12 – $15 per week. Kinder is being made into a luxury item.

If a parent has a healthcare card, then the child will be funded $875 per year rather than $800. That reduces fees by a pittance of $1.80 per week! It is nowhere near enough to make a difference.

When news of the cuts emerged, we panicked! The Kindergarten Parents of Victoria organised furious protest. We bussed kids into the city and took our grievances to the steps of Parliament . We had a roster of people sending FAXes and writing letters. We got replies justifying how wonderful their new system would be! But if you take 20% out of a $60 million budget, the bottom line is that some kinders will close.

The government solution is for corporate kindergartens. Go out and get yourself a sponsor and become the BHP kinder! If you can’t find a sponsor, find other ways to make some money!

If a kinder closes, the workers lose their job. Unemployed kindergarten teachers with years of experience will be snapped up by childcare centres. Although the pay is woeful, these workers are still going to want the job, because there simply won’t be any kindergarten teaching jobs. The government gets ‘quality’ childcare by starving highly qualified workers into taking the jobs. Meanwhile the whole notion of pre-school education is decimated. The government wants to create two simple systems: school and childcare.

Just like in the welfare sector, this work is looked on as women’s work and is devalued. The government is relying on getting very good workers cheaply. Some kinders will cut their teachers’ hours and, in theory, give more administrative tasks to the management committee. But in many cases, the teacher will continue to do the same job while being paid for 36 hours instead of 40.

There was a brief critical moment when management committees seriously considered resigning en masse. But it was already late spring. There were kids enrolling to start kinder. There was no real lead given, and then the moment passed. We’ve got a rightwing, authoritarian, paternalistic government. People saw what happened to their kids’ school and they said we’ve got to do something or our kinder is going to close. The government is relying on a particularly nasty form of exploitation. They are relying on ordinary people to work their guts out so our kids have kinders to go to next year.”

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