Child Care Cuts

23 / 12 / 2013

By Amy Gray

As the first 100 days of the Abbott Government have passed and the budget outlook has been released, the victors’ promised path has quickly diverted.

A pay increase for childcare workers has been scrapped. This is despite an agreement from the previous Gillard government to increase pay from $19 per hour to anywhere from $21 (for certificate III workers) or $25 (early childhood teachers).  Of the proposed $300 million set aside by the previous government to fund this increase, the change in power has resulted in a change of plans. Instead of pay increases, there have been vague suggestions to use the funds for training.

Childcare operators who had already signed up for wage increases under Gillard have been asked to “do the right thing” and hand back the $62.5 million already scheduled for delivery in 2014.

Based on a negative assessment of the plan by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and a reliance on enterprise bargaining agreements, Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley decried the wage increases as a “blatant” attempt to boost union membership rather than wages.

“There was a clear rush by Labor to get these deals done for their union mates before the election”, the Assistant Minister said, “and now they have left the Coalition and taxpayers to pick up the bill.”

The day after these pay increases were rescinded, so too was a $1.2 billion fund for aged care workers. This will impact approximately 300,000 people who work in the industry, earning an average of $19 per hour. This time it was Minister Kevin Andrews who argued that the previous plan was “unionism by stealth” despite a claim from opposition spokesman Shayne Neumann that 75% of the aged care industry are on enterprise bargaining agreements or don’t qualify to negotiate them at all.

Child and aged care are growing service industries, markets that are not only growing but will continue to grow. Use of formal childcare has increased by 5% and use of aged care increasing by 25% and 60% for permanent and respite care respectively, theirs is a market of continued growth. Plus, the flow-on effect from these service industries allows clients to pursue paid employment, supporting the economy through their work and use of service providers.

Viewed separately under the whiplash of Treasurer Joe Hockey’s ‘budget emergency to no budget emergency to wait, no, we’re back to budget emergency’, both moves ostensibly appear to be desperate cost cutting measures. For the cynical, perhaps it even appears as the predictable backtracking of an elected party now past having to judge a mercurial voting public.

Viewed together, the cuts to child and aged care present a disturbing message for women.

Both child and aged care are heavily populated with female workers:  96% of childcare workers are women and 86% of the aged care’s workforce are women. Such high numbers are in stark contrast to the 45% of women in other industries. The high concentration of women in child and aged care is an effective example of occupational segregation, where one gender is disproportionately represented within a job or industry.

Occupational segregation consistently fuels the gender pay gap and reduced economic outcomes for women. Though pursued by some for the flexibility offered to working mothers, typically these roles have higher rates of part time participation and earn on average three-quarters less than workers in other industries.

Seen from that lens, occupational segregation relegates women to badly-paid and often insecure work that provides fewer funds for superannuation. By creating a scheme where women cannot either earn a living wage or pay for services that would even facilitate their entry into the workforce, these conditions ultimately create economic oppression for women trying to find employment and financial security, a situation where women are restricted from participating in society.

Tied into all of this is the perceived value of women’s work within society. Given child and aged care were traditionally provided at no cost within the family unit by women, is it any wonder these services are viewed so dimly by the Abbott Government?

These are not the first broken promises or budget cuts we will see under Abbott.  The past week has shown that nearly every service and fund is under threat of being slashed into irrelevancy. It is revealing to witness the Government’s disregard for disadvantaged groups on display.

Assistant Minister Sussan Ley has it all wrong; it’s not taxpayers or the government who will have to pick up this bill. It’s women.