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The ‘real problem’ with the government’s free childcare plan

The federal government yesterday announced a $1.6 billion plan to provide free childcare to working parents during the COVID-19 crisis.

One million families are expected to benefit from the temporary overhaul of the childcare system, which begins on Sunday.

But United Workers Union director of early childhood education, Helen Gibbons, says there is a big problem with the scheme.

“It’s great for parents, that they’ll be able to access free early learning during this awful pandemic,” she told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell.

“It’s also good for businesses, and it will keep most childcare centres alive and ticking over, one way or another.

“But the real problem is in relation to the workers in this sector, because we’re not sure that there is enough money that will support them to keep their jobs.”

Ms Gibbons said there is fear that some childcare workers who are employed by enormous childcare providers, such as Goodstart Early Learning, will not be eligible for the JobKeeper payment and childcare centres will not be able to afford to keep them on.

“We’re really nervous about this. I think that the package that was announced yesterday only really works if those centres can also access the JobKeeper payment,” she said.

“About 16,000 employees did not sleep very well last night, worried about whether they’re going to be supported in the JobKeeper payment or whether their jobs are really still on the line.”

The temporary childcare overhaul will operate on a tiered scheme. Parents who are working during the crisis will be given priority access to free childcare, followed by those who have an existing arrangement with a childcare centre, then vulnerable children. If any spaces remain they will be opened up to everyone.

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FREE CHILDCARE: Federal government’s $1.6 billion COVID-19 childcare overhaul