Commentators have pondered how the world’s biggest childcare company, ABC
Learning Centres, could collapse so spectacularly. They should be asking: “Why is
childcare treated like a business?” Last August, when ABC Learning went bust, the
Rudd government handed the bankruptcy receiver $22 million to avoid a catastrophic
shutdown of the childcare sector. In December, it gave another $34 million to keep most
centres running until March while the creditors sort out their future. Fifty-five centres
have closed and 240 more are still threatened. Spending money on childcare is not the
problem. The problem is that the Rudd government still supports childcare for profit.
Radical Women has a proud history campaigning for childcare
and demanding that governments treat this as an essential service.
Photo by Alison Thorne.
Meanwhile, childcare workers are treated like dirt. Paid below the poverty line and
stressed by unspeakable conditions, they are walking away at a time when many more are
needed to meet demand. The turnover of staff is 35% nationwide — 60% in some states.
Workers at ABC Learning now have to wait and see whether they’ll have a job or who
their new employer will be. Those thrown out of work do not know if they’ll be paid their
No more privatisation. From child and aged care, to cooking, cleaning and looking after
the sick, the social needs of generations become the private burden of individuals — and
the basis of private gain for the likes of “Fast Eddy” Groves, the CEO of ABC Learning.
Using the global credit squeeze as an excuse, the Rudd government is telling working
women to wait even longer for paid maternity leave. This is rubbish — big business
is still making money. Paid parental leave could be instituted tomorrow by making
employers deduct a little from their fat profits.
The two unions covering childcare workers, the Australian Services Union (ASU) and the
Liquor, Miscellaneous and Hospitality Workers Union (LHMU) have led the outpouring
of rage over ABC Learning. The ASU is calling for childcare to be handed over to local
government, while the LHMU is lobbying the creditor banks and federal government
to keep centres open, but only until March. While the ASU’s position is fine as far as
it goes, the LHMU is completely wrong-headed. The point is that childcare is vital to
Australian workers and must not be subject to the investment decisions of unaccountable
banks and boards of directors. It plays straight into the hands of the Rudd government,
which is telling everyone to be patient while the receivers carve up ABC and sell it off.
Childcare for profit is obscene! Bailing out and selling up are not solutions. Nor is
handing control to underfunded local governments, which have been contracting out their
services to the lowest tender. This inevitably means even more exploitation of workers
and the further lowering of service standards.
Let’s change the boundaries. What about campaigning for childcare that is:
- free and provided 24/7
- staffed by fully-trained unionised workers, paid the same as other education
- fully-funded and resourced by government funds, which includes corporate taxes
- controlled by the community and workers.
Childcare would then belong to the people. A coalition of mothers, fathers, childcare
workers, unionists, community activists, students — with full union movement backing
— could achieve this. If you agree, get in touch with Radical Women on 03-9388-0062